Syrian Refugee Detained In Airport For A Year Speaks Out: ‘Looking For Safety Is Not A Crime’

CREDIT: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis

Syrian refugees go about their normal lives at the Oncupinar refugee camp for Syrian refugees next to the border crossing with Syria, near the town of Kilis in southeastern Turkey, Thursday, March 17, 2016. The European Union and Turkey hope to reach a comprehensive deal this week to tackle illegal migration and the refugee crisis spurred by conflicts in Syria and beyond. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

When Fadi Mansour fled Syria in August 2012 to avoid compulsary military service in a civil war that began a year prior, he likely never thought that he would end up detained in a Turkish airport for 12 months.

According to Amnesty International, Mansour went to Lebanon and left for Turkey in 2014 after he was kidnapped and held for ransom by a local gang. He spent one month in Turkey before going to Malaysia, where he was returned to Turkey for allegedly having fake identity documents. Turkish officials detained him at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport for eight months where he was reportedly attacked and injured by another detainee. He tried again to go to Lebanon, but was once again returned to the airport where he was re-detained.

He is now constantly under the threat of deportation by Turkish officials back to a war-torn home country where he may be killed. The death toll from Syria’s civil war has closed in on 470,000, the Syrian Center for Policy Research reported last month.

Mansour has since been placed in Ataturk Airport’s “Problematic Passengers Room,” where artificial lighting is kept on at all times and no beds are provided. Amnesty International charged that confinement in the space for an extended time period “may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, prohibited under domestic and international law.”

On the one-year anniversary of his stay in the airport, Mansour tweeted his meal — a hamburger — and a message reading, “1 year is enough. I need my freedom.” He also tweeted, “Looking for safety is not a crime, The Crime is to hold a person in the airport for a year.”

Mansour has been close to giving up and returning to Syria despite the risks of death, allegedly stating, “At least there I die once and it’s over, instead of dying more and more each day I spend in here.”

Mansour’s plight is unique. Only Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who claimed he was expelled from Iran in 1977 has lived in an airport 14 years longer than Mansour. But the issue of being in a constant state of fear and statelessness likely bears some semblance to the issues that Syrian refugees are continuing to grapple with at border crossings in Europe.

About 1.2 million migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe since 2015, with an estimated three million more expected by next year. Many countries like Macedonia, Slovenia, and Serbia have sealed off their borders, closing off the so-called Balkan Route used by people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. At the Greek border camp of Idomeni near Macedonia, more than 14,000 people are stranded, living in squalid conditions with little water and rampant disease.