A court in Turkey has sentenced a Cleaner to 108 years in prison after finding him guilty of sexually abusing Syrian children in a refugee camp. The 29 year old, referred to as Erdel E in court documents, was convicted for assaults on eight children whose families had lodged complaints.
However, local media have reported that he may have raped as many as 30 boys aged between 8 and 12 over a period of three months. They argue that the families of the other victims had kept quiet out of fear of being deported. Erdel E’s abuses only came to light after one of the victims told his father. The court heard that Erdel E paid the boys between 1.5 to 5 Turkish lira ($0.5 to $1) after sexually abusing them in the camp’s toilets.
The defense had requested for the acquittal of Erdel E, claiming that the earlier confession he had made to the police had been made under duress. But the judges at the court seemed non-compliant to these arguments and instead opted to sentence him to 108 years in prison. Local media have called it a just decision, although prosecutors had demanded a harsher 289 year sentence. The decision took place at a court in the southern city of Nizip on Friday.
During the hearing, Erdel E continually claimed that he had been made a “scapegoat” to cover up bigger scandals that were going on in the camp. Hurriyet daily quoted him saying the following.
“I know very well the names of many managers and camp workers guilty of abuse… but I will not say them so as not to hurt my own family.”
The incidents took place at Nizip camp in the Gaziantep province near the Syrian border. Almost 14,000 Syrians have taken refuge here. This particular camp has in many occasions been showcased as a model example of Turkey’s humanitarian efforts. German chancellor Angela Merkel had visited the camp in April, along with European Council President Donald Tusk. Both had described the camp as being a safe haven for refugees fleeing the war in Syria.
Court documents from Erdel E’s hearing on Friday reveal that most of his crimes were committed in areas that he had identified as being blind spots for the camp’s CCTV cameras. This case has been viewed as a representative scenario for the horrible lives that these refugees are living, particularly the children who are almost always the most vulnerable in scenarios such as these.
The case caused widespread outrage in Turkey last month, resulting in the formation of a cross-party delegation from the parliament’s human rights committee who visited both the tents and the container camps in Nizip on May 25. Furthermore, the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD), an organization responsible for taking the necessary measures for effective emergency management and civil protection in Turkey, has assured that it has taken the necessary measures to ensure that a similar incident does not happen again in the future.
Turkey hosts an estimated 2.5 million Syrian refugees, more than any other country in the world. Around a tenth of the Syrian refugees in Turkey live in camps run by the government’s Disaster and Emergency Management Authority, while the rest live in Turkish towns and cities. Turkey has been struggling to cope with the massive influx of Syrian refugees following the violence and unrest in Syria. Things are particularly hard for Turkey as other European countries have not been as compliant in helping the refugees relocate to safer places.
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