During our stay in the hotel room, we had messages from family and friends encouraging us. It was clear that there was nothing that we could do to change the decision made by the Turkish authorities. We will just have to abide by it.
That evening we reported back to the deportation office as agreed. There were still no other people in the office and I could not help wondering who had been in this office before us! As if reading my mind, the deportation officer started to speak to me in English. He had my passport in his hands and asked: “Why are you here? What have you done?” I answered that I had no idea. He was not satisfied. “Have you been to Turkey before?”, he asked. He had a television in his office and as I considered his question, the images on the screen caught my attention. It was footage of the earthquake that happened in 1999 and it was a program commemorating the events of 18 August 1999. Without hesitation I pointed to the television and told him that we were in Turkey in 1999 – 2004 doing earthquake relief work. He was now even more intrigued and interested. “Where did you work”, he asked? When I told him that we spend time in Duzce his face lid up. It was his home town and his mother lived there. It was quite possible that she benefitted in some way from the relief work we did there. “It is not possible”, he said. “You cannot be deported for helping my people.” “Have you perhaps stayed longer on your visa than allowed?” I told him that we made regular exits as required. “Then you must have a criminal record in your home country,” he offered. I told him that I was a law graduate and that I worked in the Department of Justice for 14 years.
There was a long silence and then he got up. “I am going to ask my friend at the customs department to check your status again. Maybe they made a mistake.” He left with my passport and Magda and I was left alone to reflect on the discussion we just had. What are the chances that we would meet the son of an earthquake victim from Duzce in a deportation office at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul? There was a flickering of hope that things may still work our differently.
When he returned he looked pale and even more puzzled than before. I sensed that he had bad news. He sat down at his desk and said: “We ran your passport number on our system and we got a message. We cannot access the reason for the message, but when we ran your passport number the message said, Security Risk!”
That was it. I was considered a security risk and therefor I was denied entry into Turkey!
The truth is stranger than fiction! I was surprised by this new twist in the story, but the picture was becoming clearer. We lived and worked in Turkey from 1999-2004. During that time I worked for the unregistered Turkish Protestant Church and World Relief as volunteer. I was many times questioned by the security police to establish my “real” purpose for being in Turkey. It was plausible that I had a few red flags on my file at the security police. Visiting Turkey and applying for a tourist visa between 2005-2011 did not raise any concerns, but when I applied for the residence and work permit at the beginning of 2012, my file was most probably drawn and when they denied our residence and work permit it was decided to also deny me entry into Turkey in the future.
We made inquiries through a Turkish lawyer about my status in 2014 and he confirmed that this was a permanent ruling and that I will not be allowed to enter Turkey in the future.
The deportation officer escorted us to the boarding gate and on to the airplane. We were the last to board and we walked the long isle to the last two seats at the back of the airplane. My documents was handed to the hostess in charge. It was with heavy hearts that we settled in for the flight back to South Africa merely 16 hours after our departure for Turkey.
Upon our arrival in South Africa we had to wait for all the passengers to disembark. Our documents were then handed to an official of Interior Affairs and she escorted us to the passport control area. Our documents was all in order and we were at last free to went our own way!
When I received my passport I scrutinized every page. I was relieved to find that my passport was not stamped to indicate that I was deported.