In August 2012, Fadi Mansour, a 28-year-old law student from Homs, left Syria to avoid conscription. ‘I had to do my military service before the war started; after the war they called me to fight in the reserve army, so I escaped,’ he wrote to me yesterday. He told Amnesty International that he went first to Lebanon, where he was kidnapped and held to ransom. After his release he felt unsafe; in early 2015 he came to Turkey. He flew to Malaysia but was denied entry and sent back to Istanbul. ‘They caught me in the airport,’ Mansour said. ‘I asked for asylum here. But they rejected my request.’
This was on 15 March 2015. Since then Mansour has been detained at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport. He is living in the ‘Problematic Passengers Room’. It has no natural light and no beds. The electric lights are kept on around the clock. ‘Sometimes they let me go outside the room for one or two hours,’ he told me. ‘But nothing is different between here and outside.’
I asked him if he could measure the room for me. It is 14 steps wide. ‘They give me three meals a day,’ he said. ‘It’s all junk food.’ Not long ago a Turkish policeman told him to look after himself and eat. ‘During the first eight months, I told my parents that I was visiting Turkey to not let them get worried about me,’ Mansour said. ‘Here nobody had been helpful to me.’
There is a warning in English on the wall: ‘Here are controlled continuous camera!’ Last November, another detainee attacked Mansour. He asked to be flown to Lebanon. He left Istanbul on 20 November 2015, but was denied entry at Beirut airport. On 21 November he was flown back to Atatürk Airport and detained again in the Problematic Passengers Room.
‘Being confined in such a space for an extended period of time – in this case approximately one year – may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, prohibited under domestic and international law,’ Amnesty said last week.
F.M. has relatives in other countries who are attempting to sponsor him to obtain a visa. According to the information received, no foreign embassy representatives have interviewed F.M. in detention, although it is unclear if this is because they were denied access by the Turkish authorities, or if no attempt was actually made.
Mansour has an iPad and a Twitter account. He posts images from the airport. ‘On my iPad I spend all my time on it playing games and reading books,’ he told me.
‘There are chairs in the room,’ he said. ‘They open them at 10 p.m. and close at 7 a.m. They are very uncomfortable and old chairs, designated for one or two days maximum.’
Yesterday evening there were 31 other detainees in the room with him. Some of them have been there for four months. According to Amnesty, another Syrian refugee has been at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport since last November. The longest case they knew about, before Mansour’s, lasted ten months. People often agree to being deported out of desperation. Mansour, too, considered going back to Syria. But his lawyer said it wasn’t a good idea and Amnesty advised him against returning.
‘I’ve been waiting for the Turkish court’s decision for a very long time,’ he said. ‘The immigration police asked me if I want to, they can send me to the Syrian border. But that is very dangerous for me.’
On the anniversary of his detainment he tweeted a picture of himself holding a notebook in which he’d written: ‘One year is enough. I need my freedom. Atatürk Airport 15/3/2015-15/3/2016.’
Read more in the London Review of Books