Asylum Success in the Age of Covid

The pandemic has greatly impacted the asylum process in many ways, as it has caused borders, embassies, consulates, and immigration offices to close. While asylum seekers thankfully do reach safety and are granted asylum despite these many obstacles, there are many others that are stuck in limbo as certain steps of the process remain unavailable. I am writing to you today to share the story of Yusuf, who has experienced both success and limbo.  

Yusuf, whose name we’ve changed, owned a family-run construction business in a mid-sized town in Turkey. As a leader in the business community, he donated money to a charity that offered scholarships to impoverished students. Through his charitable works, Yusuf was invited to be on the board of an educational institution.  Both this charity and the institution were affiliated with the Gülen Movement, a moderate Muslim civil society organization that Erdoğan and the Turkish government would later blame for the failed 2016 coup attempt.

But Yusuf’s problems began more than a year before the attempted coup. At the end of 2013, an anti-corruption investigation ensnared high ranking government officials, including members of Erdoğan’s family. The task force was led by officers who were also Gülen Movement supporters. Furious, Erdoğan called the investigation a judicial coup and began cracking down all aspects of the Movement, including charities and institutions. The government began seizing businesses that they claimed were supporting the Gülen Movement. Rumors that Yusuf’s business would be one of them began circulating in the local news and political circles. Now labeled an enemy of the state, he decided to leave the country with his family in December 2015. They first went to Mozambique, but after pressure from the Turkish government to extradite Gülen supporters, they moved to Johannesburg, South Africa.    

In April 2016, while Yusuf was abroad, the Turkish police raided his home and the homes of his three brothers who were also involved in the family company. They arrested his brothers and his nephew and held them in prison for 14 months. In October, three months after the coup, the government seized his company.  

Yusuf decided to leave South Africa and come to the US in 2019 after living through the civil unrest in Johannesburg that year in which foreigners were targeted. Unfortunately, his wife and children could not get visas to join him. His plan was to apply for asylum in the US and then apply to bring his family over. He reached out to Refugee Translation Project for help translating over 30 pages of documents. In May of 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, he received news that his asylum request was granted. 

We then began translating the necessary documents to bring his wife and three daughters over from South Africa. Their asylum request was granted last fall! However, due to the pandemic, the consulate in South Africa has been closed and unable to process their immigration papers. Yusuf is still waiting for his family to join him. 

Support from our donors was truly instrumental in bringing Yusuf to safety and getting his family’s asylum application approved. Hopefully they will join Yusuf soon. We will keep you updated. 

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