‘They wrapped me up like a package’: A Cameroonian’s harrowing deportation from Turkey
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The nightmarish footage shows a man whose entire body has been wrapped in plastic wrap, writhing and screaming for help from his seat on a Turkish Airlines flight. The man, Emmanuel Chedjou, told the France 24 Observers how he was restrained while being deported from Turkey to his native Cameroon.
Four separate videos of this disturbing incident have been circulating online since they were posted in mid-February and have sparked a national outcry in Cameroon. The France 24 Observers team was able to track down Chedjou, who denounced the violent and humiliating treatment he experienced at the hands of the Turkish authorities and Turkish Airlines staff.
Our team identified a series of four videos showing the incident, which occurred on board flight number TK667 between Istanbul and Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, on the night of January 27, 2020.
The first video shows the moment when Emmanuel Chedjou first managed to free his mouth and start screaming for help and protesting his deportation. The footage was filmed by his girlfriend, who was also being deported and was seated nearby. The video stops when a flight attendant wearing a Turkish Airlines uniform holds up a hand to prevent her from filming.
Un noir emballé et étouffé dans le papier film comme une colis!Abel Augustin Amundala ???? (@abelamundala) February 17, 2020
Une violation grave de droits l'homme.
Cette scène inhumaine se passe à bord d'un avion de @TurkishAirlines.@Claudy_Siar @AUC_MoussaFaki @France24_fr @JTAtv5monde @RFIAfrique ???????????? pic.twitter.com/AImtrnEI8X
The second video, also filmed by Chedjou’s girlfriend, shows three men helping him remove the plastic film around his torso.
These two videos were posted on Facebook on January 28. The videos reached a wider audience when one of the other passengers on the flight shared the videos with Cameroonian social media influencer David Eboutou. The footage shows three men helping Chedjou free himself from most of the plastic wrap. They then start trying to remove the handcuffs and tape that he has around his ankles.
The videos show the extent to which Chedjou was restrained. They show plastic ties around his wrists and metal cuffs around his ankles. He is seen wrapped in several layers of plastic film, which are sealed with thick pieces of tape.
One of the three men in the video is holding a roll of tape in his hand. Another strange detail is that there is a surgical mask hanging from Chedjou’s ear, which he was likely wearing to cover the fact that his mouth had been taped shut.
“They said my visa was false and detained me”The France 24 Observers team managed to track down 47-year-old Emmanuel Fosso Someon Chedjou, who sells shoes for a living in Douala, Cameroon. He shared documents with our team proving that he did undertake the journey and that he was indeed deported from Istanbul airport. Our team also spoke to six other people who were detained with Chedjou in the airport detention centre. Their accounts all lined up with Chedjou’s story.
I wanted to go to Dubai with my girlfriend to buy a shipment of shoes. I organized the entire trip through a travel agency. It was the first time I had organized such a trip and I only realised later that I had been scammed.
Our flight to Dubai had an eight-hour layover in Istanbul on January 21.
Emmanuel Chedjou sent documents to the Observers showing his itinerary.
When we arrived in Turkey, my partner stayed in the transit zone. I wanted to leave the airport to run an errand, seeing as we had an extremely long layover. When I got to the passport control, they told me that my transit visa was fake and arrested me. They brought me to a sort of detention centre. My partner was also there when I arrived; she had also been arrested.
This document (written in Turkish and English) explains that Emmanuel Chedjou was pronounced an "inadmissible passenger", or INAD in aviation jargon, because of a “counterfeit visa or residency permit”.
Emmanuel Chedjou took this selfie in the Istanbul Airport shortly before he was arrested. The airport is recognisable because of its unique ceiling.
They confiscated my phone and told me to sign papers that I couldn’t read because they were in Turkish. I asked to speak to a lawyer and the officers who were there refused to let me. I don’t know who exactly these officers were – they might have been police officers, gendarmes or security officers. They weren’t wearing uniforms.
Two days later, on January 23, they tried to deport me the first time. I protested, telling them that I wanted to go to Dubai as planned and one of the officers hit me. When we got to the walkway leading to the plane, I started yelling and protesting again. That’s when the staff and the pilot of the Turkish Airlines flight came out and refused to take me on board. They said I should be handed over to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
But that didn’t happen.
"They took the roll of plastic film used to wrap suitcases”
Over the next few days, I was repeatedly beaten and threatened as the authorities pressured me to return to my country. Around 1 pm on January 28, they came to get me to put me on a flight to Yaoundé, Cameroon. I protested again and, this time, they brought me to a special room.
There were about a dozen officers on hand and a group of them tried to control me. They put plastic ties on my wrists and ankles and then put on metal cuffs. Then, they stuffed my mouth with tissues and taped it shut.
Then they took two giant rolls of plastic film, which is used in airports to wrap up suitcases. They wrapped me in layer upon layer from my neck to my feet and it was absolutely impossible to move. That’s when I started struggling to breathe.
Three of them put me into a wheelchair and brought me to a plane leaving for Yaoundé. In the plane, they carried me like a package to my seat.
When the passengers were all seated and the plane was just 15 minutes from taking off, I managed to spit out the tissues that were stuck in my mouth and I started screaming for help.
The passengers immediately reacted when they saw me and started demanding that I be freed from the plastic. My girlfriend was in the plane as well and she managed to film two videos so we’d have proof of what happened.
My clothes were ripped when I was struggling with the officers and I asked for my hand luggage so that I could change. I left my ripped jeans on the seat, which had 2,400 euros in cash in the pocket. I had been planning to use that money to buy shoes in Dubai for my business. When the officer gave me back my jeans, the pockets were empty. “You’ve been lucky so far,” the officer said. “We’re going to kill you."
"They left me in a terminal for two days without giving me anything to eat”
After all that, a flight attendant working for Turkish Airlines accompanied me off of the plane. My girlfriend remained on board, however, and was soon flying towards Yaoundé.
The flight attendant asked me why I was under escort and I told her it was unacceptable to treat people in this way and that I was sick and needed medical care. She left me in the terminal in front of a Turkish Airlines counter with absolutely nothing. I had to beg to eat.
After two days, a man who claimed to be the head of staff at Turkish Airlines said to me, “We can’t give you medical attention and you can’t stay in Turkey. You’re here, you can’t even wash. You are going to have to choose a country where we can send you and you are going to leave.” Then officers came to get me to bring me back to the detention centre.
One night, one of the police officers who had wrapped me up in plastic was delivering me a coffee and he told me that they were going to send me to Abuja, Nigeria. I told him that wasn’t my country and that it was very far from my home. He said it was nearby [Editor’s note: Abuja is 800 kilometres, or 500 miles, from Douala].
At that point, I was just exhausted. I couldn’t fight anymore and I just gave in. I took the boarding pass for the flight and they brought me into the plane in handcuffs. Once I was seated on the plane, they removed the cuffs and left.
Chedjou’s boarding pass for the flight from Istanbul to Abuja.
I left Istanbul on the evening of January 30 and arrived in Abuja on January 31. A woman I met in the plane helped me organise a driver to take me back to Cameroon. I finally got back home on February 4 [Editor’s note: two weeks after Chedjou first landed in Turkey].
Between the travel agency that scammed me and everything that happened in Istanbul, I lost about 7 million CFA francs, which is equivalent to €10,500 [Editor’s note: Our team was not able to independently verify these numbers].
I didn’t just lose capital. I also lost credibility in my community. No one wants to do business with me. I want to speak out against Turkish Airlines and the officers who humiliated me. I want compensation for everything I went through and, if possible, I’m going to file a complaint.
"They took the cellphones belonging to black people but not those belonging to white people”Chedjou also said he faced discrimination at the detention centre: that black detainees were treated differently by staff; their phones were confiscated and they were kept in a separate room.
Johnny Mabaya, a 20-year-old man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was held in the detention centre for six days during the same period as Chedjou, told our team a similar story.
Unlike Emmanuel, I don’t speak English. So there was a huge problem with communication and that sparked a lot of tension. The food they gave us was basically inedible and they hit us regularly. They confiscated phones from black detainees, but not from the white people. They also put us black people in a separate room.
The day when they wrapped Emmanuel in plastic, we heard a lot of yelling and screaming and then, suddenly, it stopped. We realised that they had managed to close his mouth. A few days later, I was slated for deportation. I tried to protest but I gave in pretty quickly because I was afraid that they would do the same thing to me that they did to Emmanuel
Our team also spoke to two women who were also detained at the facility – one from Cameroon and the other from DR Congo. They also said that the Africans were treated differently. A Ukrainian man who was briefly held in the detention centre told us that he was allowed to keep his cellphone.
What is going on in the airport in Istanbul?
Very few immigration lawyers or refugee rights organisations have access to the detention centre in Istanbul airport. According to our research, several lawyers working with the NGO Refugee Rights Turkey have visited the centre in the past but they were not available for an interview.
The detention centre is run by airport officials, as mandated by the 2015 Turkish law on the responsibilities of air carriers. According to the law, an airline is responsible for returning a passenger denied entry to Turkey to his country of origin as rapidly as possible. The company that runs the airport is supposed to ensure that while the situation is sorted out, the passenger is kept in good conditions in a secure area.
Turkish law does not specify how police units or private security firms are supposed to escort deportees onboard the planes, nor does it specify what legal means they have to control a person who does not cooperate. According to a former executive in Turkish civil aviation, airline companies contract with private security firms for such operations. We were not able to independently verify this.
Piril Erçoban, the coordinator for Mütleci-der, a Turkish organisation that defends refugee rights, says the images of Chedjou’s deportation are “revolting”.
"It doesn’t matter what the person’s legal status is; this practice is unacceptable. That can’t be legal. The authorities need to take administrative and legal action against those responsible and should no longer tolerate these practices in border or transit zones.”
READ ON THE OBSERVERS >> What it’s like to get stuck in an airport… for a year
The Turkish Directorate General of Migration Management (DGMM), an arm of the Interior Ministry, said on February 22 via Twitter that "such practices are absolutely unacceptable," that two investigators had been assigned to investigate, and that the personnel responsible would be appropriately sanctioned.
Bugün Bazı Sosyal Medya Hesaplarında İstanbul Havalimanı'ndan Bir Yolcunun Streç Filme Sarılarak Sınır Dışı Edildiği İddiasına İlişkin Basın Açıklaması pic.twitter.com/U9QV9eCzYWGöç İdaresi Genel Md (@Gocidaresi) February 22, 2020
A tweet by Turkey's DGMM February 22, 2020 reads: "The passenger in question tried to enter Turkey with a false document on January 21. He was denied entry. There were three attempts to deport the foreign citizen on January 21, 22 and 27. They were unsuccessful because he resisted and, on the last occasion, because he tore his clothes in the airplane. He was finally deported on January 30 during a fourth attempt."
Our team contacted Turkish Airlines to get their explanations for the incident but they did not respond. We will update this article when they send a response.