Istanbul Arrival

July 26, 2011

Last week I was in Istanbul attending a Youth Forum for teenagers from around the world. But not everyone in the world gets to travel in the same style.

Two girls from the Sierra Leone team staged a hunger strike during a 15 hour detention by Turkish authorities.

The team was travelling without obtaining the correct visas after visiting the Turkish consulate in Sierra Leone and finding it closed. They believed they could buy a temporary tourist visa at the airport under a scheme which applies to visitors from Europe and North America – but immigration officers locked them up instead.

“We spent 15 hours in detention, that’s a gross violation of my human rights. It couldn’t happen in my country” said Sulaiman Musa. “I can’t say it was because we are black, but because you’re an African, and from a poor country, that’s the first thing that’s comes to your mind…”

Once the group arrived they were questioned briefly, and asked to sign papers in Turkish, before being separated into male and female holding cells for the night. Musa said the other men in his room were mostly Africans from Nigeria, South Africa and Lesotho.

“I don’t like they way Africans are treated in some countries. I really wept.” said Hawanata Sheriff. Sheriff and her teammate Elfrida Kamara decided to refuse food until their situation was resolved – although they later agreed to eat and drink after Youth Forum Director was able to speak to them by phone, and reassure them that she was doing everything possible to get them out.

The team was released the following morning and took part in the rest of the event – but opinion was divided with Africans sympathising, while Europeans moaned – “but they didn’t have the right papers…”

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