This Turkey nightmare is so scary
We all want to go to Turkey and walk along the Bosphorus. It is, after all, a land of great beauty, history and religious affinity for Pakistanis around the world. Couple that with the fact that Istanbul, Turkey’s most famous city, is also a party capital doesn’t hurt a good vacation. Sadly not all wanderlust dreams turn out to be exactly that. Like this guy just had a Turkey nightmare that is absolutely horrifying
This barrister from Quetta just shared his Turkey nightmare and it’s absolutely jarring
Ahmed Jamal is an a barrister based in Quetta and is a travel enthusiast. While talking to MangoBaaz he shared that it was a lifelong dream that he could visit 50 countries before turning 30. He said he is now 30 years old and has achieved his dream but his experience with Turkey, even though he had been there many times before, is a real-life Turkey nightmare.
In his viral social media post Ahmed exclaimed, “[m]y visit to Turkey where I had to spend the night in jail and not in a hotel! I was detained for over 15 hours only because the Turkish authorities do not have a proper mechanism and system at the airport to identify people! Shockingly pathetic system and procedure, nightmare for tourists who are victimized as a result of the stone age system!”
Ahmed’s ordeal was one that he wasn’t expecting and this is his story in his own words
Ahmed was in for a Turkey nightmare and he didn’t realize as he boarded his flight for a layover in Turkey.
“I was returning to Pakistan after visiting London. I thought it would be pleasant to spend some hours in Istanbul before I fly back home. Plan was to get some good food, pray in the Blue Mosque, and to have a few cups of tea at the Taksim Square. I was excited to see the new Istanbul Airport, however, was not much curious on other aspects of the travel to Turkey as this was my 13th trip to the country.
Flight from London to Istanbul was pretty good and I arrived at Istanbul Airport in late hours of the night. I was observing and admiring the new airport as I walked to the immigration control. To my surprise there was no waiting involved and I headed straight to one of the immigration desk. The smiling immigration officer politely handled my passport and E-Visa. The officer was struggling to find my UK visa to verify my Turkish E-Visa, I helped her to find the page where my UK visa was stamped. She quickly checked the visa and then stamped my passport.
As soon as she stamped my passport, she got alerted with something on her computer screen. She discussed the issue with her colleagues on the other immigration desks, and then she made a few calls. Then an officer told me to follow him and we walked quite a bit to get to an office which was located around the departures immigration control. Two officers on their desks were dealing with multiple issues and I was told to take a seat. After a while they started printing some papers with respect to my issue. Their english was not good, however I tried to enquire about the issue. They told me that there are no issues with immigration, however, I have a problem with police in the Turkish city of Alanya. I told them that I have never been to Alanya or any other surrounding region. They told me the exact date of criminal incident in 2016, and I responded that I was not even in Turkey on that date, and they can easily verify that in their immigration system and/or my passport. They said that they cannot do anything and this will be handled by the police. Well, I did not had an option, however, I was not worried as I knew that I have not done anything which should worry me. So I expected a little further delay and inconvenience, but I was mentally prepared that I would be free to go soon.
They escorted me to the baggage claim area and we collected the baggage. Then as soon as we exited the arrival’s area, a white shuttle was waiting for me. In less than five minutes’ drive I arrived at the police station of the Istanbul Airport. My expectation was there would be biometrics or other checks, and I would be free to go, however, as soon as I entered the premises I was taken to a detention room. The detention room was a small room with two hard benches, a large water bottle and a few used disposable glasses. There was another guy in the detention room along with his suitcases, he was from somewhere in Central Asia, however, his lack of english did not make me understand why he was in detention.
I thought it is just the annoying wait before they call me in for verifications and questioning, however, there was no movement for a significant time. Then I decided to get up and knock the locked door. A police officer came and I asked when can I leave. To my shock, he informed me that I have to spend the night here, and then I will be taken to the court in day time. This was the moment when I got really worried and distressed. I asked him what is the problem, why am I even here. He responded that he do not know, and told that I will find out when they will take me to court.”
This is when Ahmed’s Turkey nightmare started to become a reality and he realized that his minor inconvenience could actually be a big issue
“Throughout this time I did not had any connectivity as I did not had a Turkish sim card. Then to try my luck I searched for wifi and there was only a secured connection of the police station’s official wifi. To try my luck yet again, I entered “12345678” and I got connected to the internet. I did not waste anytime and explained the situation to a few friends, including a diplomat at the Pakistan’s Embassy in Ankara, and a few other friends who are working in Pakistan’s Foreign Office in Islamabad. Within a few minutes, my messages were read by some of the friends and they assured me that they will reach out to the concerned authorities right away and will continuously contact the consulate until I am released. I continued to rest in the depressing detention room, however, with some hope now as the consulate was now approached with my details. The wifi connection was soon lost. I was really drained and tired at that point. The other guy in the room was trying to sleep, I thought that maybe I should do the same to kill some time. The bench was really hard and uncomfortable, however, after closing the super bright lights of the detention room I tried to sleep. But soon room was opened again by a police officer who came to get a paper signed by me. The paper said something to the extent that, “I do not want the authorities to tell about my detention to any embassy”, I declined to sign. I tried to get some rest, however, the police officers keep coming in for odd reasons at intervals and did not give any chance to rest.
I must confess that as my friends had already established contact with concerned people of the Pakistan’s Consulate in Istanbul, so whenever someone opened the detention room, I thought they may tell that there is someone from Pakistan’s Consulate or a call from them for me. However, the stressful wait continued and they took me and the other guy to another room for finger prints and photographs. Upon returning to the detention room I found another guy chilling on one of the benches. I tried to ask him why is he detained. He made a gun sign with his hand and it appeared that he was detained for a gun crime. We tried to get some rest, however, yet again the frequent visits of the police officers did not make rest possible. Soon another guy from Iran joined the detention room, he could speak good english and told me that he was transiting at the airport and they detained him for a petty issue. His female cousin was also traveling with him and she got detained too in another room.
Around 5:00 in the morning, the police informed us that we will all be taken to the hospital for a medical check up. It felt like pure torture, I was tired, restless, stressed, and the procedures did not allow to give me any rest time. We were taken to a hospital in a shuttle which was at least twenty five minutes drive away. A few female travelers were also taken to the hospital with us, these females were also detained in a separate detention room at the same police station. As soon as we entered the premises of the hospital, a lady doctor said something to the policemen after looking at us, and we were told that medical is done and then we drove back to the police station.
When we arrived back to the police station, at this moment we were told to empty our pockets and remove belts and watches, and to keep everything in our baggage. Our baggage was placed in the lobby of the police station. After that the gate of the prison style cell was opened and I was asked to go inside. That was a heavy moment as I never thought I would ever go behind the bars. Depressingly, it was for something which I did not do, and I was not even aware of the allegation or the extent of misidentification with someone who may have committed a crime. When I stepped in, I saw that there are multiple other smaller cells within the main cell and most of them were empty. Cells surprisingly had somewhat clean beds and blankets. I suddenly realized that the other guys are not brought here, and they have been taken to the same detention room where we had spent hours earlier. A policeman was observing my curiosity, and he told me to go and sleep. At this moment I figured out that despite being in the cell, I have been favored over others. The reason is that the detention room only had two benches where it was not possible to sleep and multiple guys were sent to that room now. On the other hand, this place was quieter and had proper sleeping arrangements. Another aspect which I observed for my mental satisfaction was that even though I was officially behind the bars, however, the doors of the cells were wide open and were not locked or even closed. Anyhow, I was able to get some sleep and hoped that I will be waken up by some positive news, especially with respect to connection with the Pakistan’s Consulate in Istanbul. As hours had gone by since I lost connectivity, and Pakistan’s Consulate was informed long ago about my situation and wrongful detention.”
He could only now come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t going to be easy for him to get out quickly from his Turkey nightmare
“I woke up and was offered tea by a senior guy in the adjacent cell. Still do not know if he was a policeman resting in the cell or was a detainee. He looked quite active and busy with the affairs of the police station. After waiting for some more hours, I was informed that we will be taken to the court. I was told to carry all of my luggage. Not everyone who was detained was taken to court, it was a selected cohort. We were driven for at least half an hour to the court and I had access to my phone once again, however I had no connection. The other guys who were being taken to court mostly had interpol issues and some of them arrived into turkey after spending convictions overseas. As they were driving us to the court, I was asked if I would need a translator and choice of language. So I requested an english translator.
When we arrived at the court, it was very quite[sic]. It was a public holiday in Turkey but fortunately they have a judge even for public holidays. A few guys were handcuffed in the court, fortunately I was not. The wait in court was very long and I was anxious as I still had no idea what is going on and why am I in the court. A translator soon arrived and introduced himself to me. He was not surprised by what I told him. He said it is a common occurrence and he often have to translate for travelers who are detained and brought to court for reasons they do not know. He told me that the way it works at Turkish Airports is that if a name matches with someone who have a legal issue, that is sufficient to detain anyone with the same name. The airports in Turkey do not have access to further identification features such as date of birth, country of nationality, father name, biometric data, etc. Proper identification of the alleged criminal is only accessible in the court, not even in the police stations. So a lot of travelers suffer due to this system, and he personally know that many family holidays and honeymoons have been ruined as a result of this system.
After hours of wait, a video conference hearing was arranged from the court in Alanya as my issue was raised through the authorities in Alanya. It was time to make the best use of my law degrees and as a starting point I told them that I am a licensed lawyer in Pakistan and a called barrister in England and Wales. They asked me a number of basic questions and the issue of the case was that someone used a sim card which was issued in the name of some “Ahmed Jamal” and that was the only identification detail which they had. That sim card was used to commit a fraud of around 60 USD. There was no other match or evidence that matched my identity. The court said that I have to provide my hand writing and then I am free to go. I was finally glad to hear about the freedom.
I had to provide my hand writing on four A4 pages, and I had to complete the pages entirely with my hand writing. The first page had to be done with right hand whilst sitting. The second page by right hand whilst standing. The Third and Fourth with left hand, each by sitting and standing. At this point the translator told me that the court staff/ police need “lunch money”. I would do anything at this point to get freedom as I was mentally and physically drained and was almost out of senses. He said 50 USD is good, I complied. I was then given two pages typed in Turkish language and was told that I am free to go and I have no problems with the law.”
Finally Ahmed was able to make contact with his family and friends and share his Turkey nightmare with them, but it wasn’t over yet
This Turkey nightmare was finally about to end for Ahmed as he made contact with his people back home but he still needed to get out of the country.
“I was given internet access by the translator and then I contacted my family. My phone was piled up with messages from friends and they confirmed that the concerned people at the Pakistan Consulate were informed long ago and that they were not given proper information/cooperation about my whereabouts and issue by the Turkish authorities. I took a taxi and went to a hotel where I crashed for a night after wrongful and unreasonable detention of over 15 hours.
Next concern was my exit from Turkey. I was worried if the immigration stops me once again and claim that my record is still appearing or something. I was once again assured by the diplomatic authorities that they will provide support if anything goes wrong, and they did follow up the issue with the Turkish authorities too. However, the next day I did not face any issue at immigration and was stamped out in a second.”
Ahmed still has many unanswered questions about his nightmare experience
While talking to MangoBaaz, Ahmed says that despite his Turkey nightmare story being a viral social media post and given the fact that he had established contact with the Pakistani Consulate in Turkey, no authorities have properly addressed how to help him or even how to make sure his next trip to Turkey isn’t a nightmare as this one.
“There are a number of questions in my mind with respect to what had happened with me. The first is that if I was a national of another country but other circumstances would have been the same, would they have treated me the same way? Secondly, what should be the extent of consular support in situations like these, and is there anything which our embassies or authorities can do to avoid such situations in future? Thirdly, when travelers plan their destination, they take into account a number of factors, should not they keep the justice system and fair governmental procedures a key factor when deciding the destination?
I am still trying to come out of the shock of this incident. I am a passionate traveler and I have traveled well over hundred times to other countries, and I recently reached the milestone of traveling to 50 different countries. This incident will not deter my love and passion for traveling and I will keep wandering.”
Ahmed says that personnel from the Consulate write messages in the comments every time his post goes viral but there’s no proper formal follow up from the authorities to make sure he is compensated for wrongfully being detained and going through his Turkey nightmare.
Cover image via: willingway.com / onthegotours.com