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Albania rejects asylum claim by suspected Gulenists on procedural grounds



The alleged Gulenist Selami Simsek in Tirana court. Photo: LSA

The Albanian National Commission for Asylum and Refugees on September 10 rejected an appeal against a previous refusal of asylum by Turkish citizen Selami Simsek, BIRN has learned, despite local and international calls for Albania to respect its obligations to protect refugees.

BIRN also learned that only four of the seven members of the Commission were present and that the three government officials voted to reject the appeal while the civil society representative protested the decision.

Merita Xhafaj, an official from the Ministry of Health, Venera Domi from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Jetlir Gjergji from the Ministry of Education, all voted not to accept the appeal.

Ardita Kolmarku, from the Albanian Helsinki Committee, voted the other way around. The Commission then rejected Simsek’s claim that he could be politically prosecuted if extradited to Turkey.

The decision, seen by BIRN, was based on procedural grounds. He says Simsek appealed the original decision of the Home Office’s Asylum and Citizenship Directorate after the 15-day deadline expired.

The management initially rejected her asylum claim on March 9.

The ruling says Simsek, currently detained in a detention center for illegal immigrants, refused to sign the delivery letter of the first ruling.

However, the representative of the Helsinki Committee stressed that the authorities had not provided any evidence that they had indeed notified Simsek or his lawyer of the initial decision.

Ombudsperson Erinda Ballanca also told BIRN earlier that she received a misleading response from the Home Office to her own questions on this issue. The ministry did not say exactly when the decision was notified, she explained.

Technically, Simsek has the right to appeal the latest decision. BIRN had not been able to contact its lawyer at the time of publication.

Several dozen supporters of the so-called Gulenist movement, loyal to exiled Turkish cleric Gulen, live in growing fear in Albania, due to the friendly ties between Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Gulen’s nemesis Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Earlier this year, United Nations rights officials expressed concerns about the Simsek case.

Albania deported another Gulenist suspect, Harun Celik, to Turkey on January 1 of this year, raising concerns that the country would meet its international obligations.

Albanian authorities claimed to have expelled Celik as an illegal alien, ignoring the dangers he faced in his home country. However, a BIRN investigation showed that Celik had in fact been put on a plane to Turkey despite his desperate asylum claims. He was arrested on his arrival in Istanbul.

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