“I don’t want to live illegally anymore, I’m fed up. I just want to go back to Turkey. Release me? Forget it. I do not want to leave until you either send me back or resolve my problems.”
Hagop came to Belgium as a teenager with his mother and sister after his father was murdered. The whole family applied for asylum. The appeal court gave its decision 13 years later, after Levon’s mother had passed away. In the meantime, various other regularisation procedures had also been launched, and are still pending. Hagop wants to return to Turkey because living on the move without any stability cannot be called a life. He has been in administrative detention twice, but returning is impossible because the Turkish authorities cannot find any trace of him in their registers. Hagop is 29 now and has nowhere to turn. He still does not have any documents, a home or a future.
In search of safety
I belong to the Armenian minority that lives in Turkey. When my father was murdered, my mother decided to take my sister and me to Belgium. We arrived in 1998; I was 13 at the time. We applied for asylum immediately, but three years later our application was rejected. I don’t know anything about the interview my mum did. I don’t have any information; all I know is the name of my village. Despite our situation, we tried to build a normal life for ourselves. I went to school and even started an internship, but I could not complete it because we lost our papers.
In 2002, I also applied for regularisation on humanitarian grounds. Until this day, I still haven’t received any reply, neither yes nor no.
When my mother died in 2008, my problems really started. The house was too big for me and I couldn’t afford to pay the rent. I looked for another apartment but the commune never wanted to register me and so I had to live on the streets, which is still the case today. I slept in homeless shelters or outside in the cold, and I had no choice but steal to survive. I eventually got in trouble with the law and ended up in prison.
The cruelty of the system
The first time I ended up in detention was after completing a prison sentence. Instead of releasing me, I was kept in prison for six extra months under administrative detention, which I felt was really unfair. Six extra months in prison, because they couldn’t send me back to my country! The authorities tried to send me back to Turkey but this turned out to be impossible. They told me that Turkey does not want me and that I cannot return because they won’t provide me with any travel documents. When they finally released me, I was ordered to leave Belgium immediately.
I made my way to Sweden, hoping they might grant me asylum. Things got better; I had a social life and even had a girlfriend. Two years later, however, I was arrested and sent back to Belgium – and to make matters worse, Belgium then ordered me to leave the country again! Where was I supposed to go? I don’t understand why Belgium made me come back. I wanted to kill myself…how could they treat me like this? I have lost everything. [He shows us the self-harm scars on his arms.]
I’m sick and tired of this life. I’ve even tried returning to Turkey voluntarily, but again the reply was negative, as Turkey won’t acknowledge me as one of their citizens. Apparently, they can’t find any trace of my name in their registers. Anything is better than this life. I would gladly move anywhere else, to any country that would accept me – even Somalia!
When detention is better than freedom
In January 2013 I was arrested and sent to a detention centre. After a month I was released again, but I didn’t want to leave. Life was good there… I had a roof over my head, I had my MP3 player and I minded my own business. I lived like a king. I didn’t want to leave until they either sent me back, or resolved my problem. They had to call the police to throw me out of detention – can you believe that?
I just want a normal life. I want to find a job, an official job. I want to turn my life around. Do you think I like being a criminal? I’m tired of all this. I want to do something good, start a family … get a cat. Belgians love cats, don’t they?
16 years in Belgium
Still undocumented and unreturnable for administrative reasons