An Arduous Journey to Safety

Each Refugee Translation client has endured many levels of hardship before reaching out to us for assistance in translating their asylum application documents. We commit ourselves to make sure this pivotal moment of their journey is not impeded by delay or monetary concerns. Your donations provide complete, professional, free translation to individuals like those in the story (a composite to preserve client anonymity) we share below.

Ahmet and Irem made the excruciatingly difficult decision to flee their home in Turkey after the 2016 coup put them at risk of being arrested and tortured. Irem was a judge on one of the highest courts in the country, and her husband Ahmet was a defense lawyer. They had studied and then practiced law in the capital city of Ankara and were both idealistic jurists who believed their country would uphold justice and the rule of law until the attempted coup of July 15, 2016 radically changed their lives. The night of the coup was a Friday and Irem and Ahmet were finishing a late meal at a local sidewalk cafe when fighter jets roared overhead. They soon heard explosions and distant gunfire. Terrified, as was everyone, they rushed home and turned on the news. Ahmet couldn’t believe what was happening, but after this point it was as though time speeded up unimaginably. 

The following day a list was issued naming over 2,750 judges to be immediately removed from duty, and warrants issued for their arrest. Irem’s name was on that list, which meant she was branded as a traitor and a terrorist, but with no evidence to back up the claims. Irem and Ahmet were terrified. Their colleagues had reported the police barging into their homes ad beating them in front of their spouses and children before handcuffing them and taking them into custody where they were crammed into cells and subjected to interrogation and torture. Lawyers, prosecutors, teachers, civil servants, and prominent members of the business community were being swept up in the dragnet. They knew they needed to leave Turkey. 

Ahmet learned from the news that refugees from Syria were going to the Aegean coast and taking small boats to nearby Greek islands. Desperate, he thought they would do the same. But after the coup, no one was taking anyone across. Everyone was afraid. The only other option was by land. Irem’s uncle knew someone who knew someone who put them in touch with human traffickers who could smuggle them into Bulgaria for $12,000. Ahmet couldn’t believe their lives had come to this. “Here I am, a respectable lawyer, and my wife, an honorable judge, reduced to paying smugglers to aid us in our escape,” he thought. When he went to get the money to pay the traffickers though, he learned that their bank account had been frozen. They had no money, aside from a few hundred dollars they had on them. Irem’s uncle agreed to pay the fee, which was really hard to accept, but they did. 

The smugglers met them on the outskirts of Istanbul and drove them several hours to a desolate place on the border. That day, however, there were Bulgarian police near that spot on the border. They had to stay the night with the armed traffickers in their house, a harrowing experience. Irem thought, “It is either this or surrender ourselves to the mercy of the Turkish police, who would surely torture us.” The next day, the smugglers brought them back to the same spot. This time the coast was clear and they waded through the river to Bulgaria. Avoiding the main roads because they had no Bulgarian visas, they hiked through thickets and underbrush until they reached the center of a small town. With ripped clothing and bleeding legs, they caught a taxi to a larger town where they could take an overnight bus to the Sofia airport. 

Fortunately, each had American visas in their passports from previous visits. An American tourist visa lasts ten years. At the airport they bought roundtrip tickets with cash Irem’s uncle had given to them. When the agent checked them in, however, their passports would not scan. After several attempts, the agent attributed it to a system error and marked the passports and visas as valid. They found out later that the Turkish government had canceled their passports in an effort to trap them in the country.

When they landed in the United States they had a long process ahead of them to gain asylum status. Irem’s colleague put them in touch with the Refugee Translation Project and through many months of coordination with their attorneys we were able to translate all of their paperwork and accurately convey to US immigration officials the severity of the danger they faced in Turkey. Ahmet and Irem were able to obtain asylum  and stay safely in the USA because of this. Today, Irem is in her final year of law school. She had to put herself through law school again in order to practice law in the US. Ahmet could not get accepted into law school, as he left behind a crucial document. He works at a legal clinic that aids asylum seekers. On the other side of a physically and emotionally wrenching journey, asylum applicants should have equal access to have their situation conveyed in the application process regardless of the ability to pay for translation. The Refugee Translation Project stands with our clients through every step of the asylum process in order to ensure all documents are fully translated and their story, conveyed accurately and completely, can reach the appropriate immigration authorities. Please donate to support this important work.