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UK gov’t considered returning opponents to Erdoğan as part of migrant deal: report

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A report by The Times has disclosed that the UK Home Office abandoned plans for a migrant return deal with Turkey that included repatriating Turks and Kurds who fled repression by the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, citing human rights concerns and the potential persecution of political dissidents.

The British government’s plan to manage migrant crossings by establishing a return agreement with Turkey faltered following an internal assessment by the Home Office, which determined that Turkey cannot be classified as a “generally safe” country for the repatriation of migrants, according to The Times report.

This decision comes amid a significant increase in the number of Turkish nationals seeking asylum in the UK, with a reported 3,000 arrivals last year by boat, marking a 162 percent rise from the previous year.

The proposed arrangement, mirroring a deal with Albania aimed at reducing migrant crossings, faced scrutiny after a review highlighted that the vast majority of Turkish asylum claims in Britain were based on fears of political persecution. Many applicants are perceived or actual opponents of President Erdoğan, involved in pro-Kurdish movements or the faith-based Gülen movement.

Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-prime minister Erdoğan, his family members and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following an abortive putsch in 2016 that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

Key concerns raised include the misuse of anti-terrorism laws in Turkey, the lack of judicial independence and issues surrounding the fairness of trials, particularly in political cases.

Allegations of torture and mistreatment in police custody and prisons further contributed to the Home Office’s decision. Additionally, the UK’s reconsideration of the deal aligns with broader international worries about Turkey’s compliance with European Court of Human Rights rulings.

Despite the setback, the UK government continues to seek avenues for cooperation with Turkey to address illegal migration and combat people smuggling. This includes exploring treaties or agreements to safeguard political refugees from persecution upon their return and engaging in joint efforts to dismantle smuggling networks.

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