More than 100 members of a religious minority, the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light, who tried to cross into Bulgaria to request asylum, were forcibly blocked from doing so by Turkish authorities at the Turkish-Bulgarian border on May 24.
A statement by the religious group, which describes itself as a persecuted religious minority, said that the group – including women, children and the elderly – were violently beaten, pushed back and taken to the Edirne public safety office.
“Gunshots were fired at them, they were threatened and their belongings thrown away,” the statement said. On a video posted of the incident, gunfire can be heard. No gunshot injuries were reported.
The statement said that the 103 individuals have been subjected to extreme and systematic forms of religious persecution all across Muslim-majority countries because of their faith.
“They had been beaten, imprisoned, kidnapped, humiliated and terrorized in countries like Iran, Iraq, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Azerbaijan and Thailand,” the statement said.
They had gathered in Turkey and were on their way to the Turkish-Bulgarian border to assume their human right to request asylum directly from the Bulgarian Border Police, in line with the Article 58(4) of the Law on Asylum and Refugees (LAR), which states that asylum can be applied for with a verbal statement submitted in front of the border police.
This comes after all attempts to obtain a visa on humanitarian grounds had been unsuccessful, the post on the website said.
Article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights state that refugees have the right to asylum and to a full and fair individualised assessment with the right to appeal.
The members of this religious minority have followed legal procedures in order to seek asylum as per internationally agreed upon human rights laws, the statement said.
Additionally, an open letter by the European Border Violence Monitoring Network (BVMN) was sent on May 23 2023, with human rights organisations signing their endorsement, urging for the protection of the group and that their right to claim asylum at the border be upheld, in accordance with international law.
“For Turkey to respond to this humanitarian refugee crisis in this manner is a breaking of internationally agreed upon human rights laws. This breaking of human rights laws by the Turkish Government is an outrage and an absolute travesty of justice,” the statement said.
“We demand that our innocent members of this registered religion be granted their human right to asylum and sanctuary, that they be treated as lawful citizens who have committed no crime, and that they be released immediately from their detainment.”
Bulgarian media reported on May 24 that the Kapakule border crossing had been closed for two hours because of the attempt to cross the border into Bulgaria. The reports were headlined that the group had tried to “storm” the border.
The reports said that among those detained were people from the United Kingdom, Thailand, Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Algeria, Jordan, as well as Turkish citizens. Two of the UK citizens held said that they were journalists.
The media reports quoted the Bulgarian Border Police chief directorate as saying that it had not been notified of the incident.
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