"Living in fear and uncertainty every day, expecting the police to come back and snatch us from our beds, take us to the station and torture us... we couldn't stand it anymore. After the death of my father, we decided to leave the country," said B.K., a former English teacher who didn't want to give his full name.
Speaking with a calm and quiet voice, he told DW the story about how he and his wife had headed for the dangerous waters of the Aegean Sea on November 1, arriving in Germany seven weeks later. They have been living in refugee accommodation facilities ever since, currently in a big center near Aachen in western Germany.
After both being charged as members of the "Gülen organization" in Turkey, they have now applied for asylum in Germany and are awaiting the government's decision. Ankara has classified the movement of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who now lives in the United States, as a terrorist organization and has accused it of being behind the attempted coup in 2016.
Turkey tops asylum applicants, overtaking Afghanistan
According to Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, BAMF, more than 23,000 Turkish citizens have applied for asylum in the country this year alone — an increase of 203% over the same period last year.
In July, 3,791 Turkish citizens submitted applications, overtaking the number of Afghan citizens and now second only to Syrian nationals.
Turkey experts are not surprised. Many had predicted the development after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the presidential election again in May.
"At least the half [of the electorate] who did not vote for Erdogan is disappointed," said Dündar Kelloglu, a lawyer and board member of the Refugee Council of Lower Saxony. These voters had hoped for a change of government, he told DW, and improvements in the country's political and economic situation.
"The atmosphere was not even this pessimistic after the military coup in 1980," he said, adding that the current political situation was still very tense and the persecution of opposition figures had continued unabated.
Since the 2016 coup attempt, the Turkish government has been cracking down even harder on critics. Thousands of opposition members have been imprisoned, and several thousand have lost their jobs after being suspected of terrorism. Job applicants, whether in the civil service or even in large parts of the private sector, need to have connections to the ruling party or to religious foundations that back Erdogan.
Furthermore, said Yasar Aydin of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Turkey is facing an economic crisis that will be difficult to overcome without more deprivation and loss of wealth. The prospects for well-educated people, in particular, are becoming grimmer by the day, he added. Those who no longer see a decent future in Turkey are making their way to Germany.
Economic situation deteriorating under Erdogan
The economic situation in the country has rapidly deteriorated over the past two years. The president's low interest rate policy has led to a plummeting currency and skyrocketing inflation. The annual inflation rate hit 48% last month, and the central bank expects it to have risen to 58% by the end of the year. Large swaths of the population are falling into poverty.
Erdogan promised improvements after his reelection. Appointing proponents of economic orthodoxy to the Finance Ministry and the central bank, he signaled a departure from his low interest rate policy. Taxes and the central bank's key interest rate have since been raised several times, causing inflation to rise even more steeply.
Erdogan hopes to bring the situation under control ahead of local elections due to be held in spring 2024. His aim is to recapture the Turkish capital Ankara and other major cities from the opposition, including Istanbul, Izmir and Antalya, which together account for the bulk of Turkey's GDP.
Germany an attractive destination for Turks
Germany is a particularly attractive destination for those who no longer believe the situation will improve in Turkey, as well as for those leaving for political reasons. There are already 3 million people of Turkish descent living in the country, providing newcomers with networks of families and friends. Many Turks are also immigrating via irregular channels.
In 2021, 7,067 Turkish citizens sought asylum in Germany. One year later, the number of applications had more than tripled, reaching 23,938. This year, the 23,000 mark was exceeded in July.
Aydin predicts that the number of Turks arriving in Germany will remain at this high level over the next few years. "Political developments and impending economic difficulties suggest migration from Turkey will continue," he said.
But German authorities less likely to grant asylum
However, while the number of applications has risen, the number of Turkish people being granted asylum in Germany has fallen in recent years. In 2022, 27.8% were successful; this year, it has fallen to 15%.
It remains unclear why there has been such a drastic drop. BAMF, which states that it considers each asylum application on an individual basis, taking into account political and social developments in the home countries of those seeking asylum and conducting country-specific assessments, has not said whether it thinks the human rights situation and the rule of law have improved in Turkey.
Kelloglu from the Refugee Council criticized the fact that though the situation in Turkey had not improved, the BAMF had changed its assessment of the country. He explained that people used to be granted asylum if they were persecuted for political reasons or at risk of imprisonment. Now, however, it's only granted to those who had been sentenced to prison. He said the applications of people wanted by the Turkish state or with pending court cases were rejected.
The reason given for this, Kelloglu explained, was that those being prosecuted could still be acquitted by higher courts. He added that some courts in Germany had even concluded that dissidents in Turkey no longer faced long sentences. "That's why the asylum quota is falling," he said.
B.K. and his wife, who applied for asylum in June, said they were hoping for a "positive decision." Otherwise, they said they didn't know where they would go. Their family broke off contact with them as soon as they were sentenced for being part of the Gülen movement, out of fear of repression.
"All we have left is hope, and each other," he said. "Nothing and nobody else."
This article was originally written in German.
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