A life lost

Three weeks ago, Festos Okey died. A man from Nigeria, asylum seeker in Turkey and shot at Beyoglu police station in Istanbul. How he died is being investigated now. The police say he was taken into custody after they found drugs on him as they checked his identity, and that Festos tried to snatch a gun from a policeman when more drugs were found in his underpants at the police station. In the fight that followed, the gun accidently fired and Festos died.

I don’t know if this version of what happened is true. But the incident made me think of a report that I made a few weeks ago, in which I described the African community living in another part of Istanbul called Katip Kasim. Mostly men, women and children from Somalia, they are packed together in old and delapidated houses. There were four guys sharing a bed, each one having the use of it for 6 hours. Most of the people were in Istanbul only short-term. They use Istanbul as a transit city, on their way to Greece and further into Europe or on their way to family in Canada or the United States. Some of them tried to get refugee status by going to UNHCR office in Ankara, but not too many succeeded. During their time in Istanbul, they said, they tried to stay out of trouble as much as possible. As an illegal immigrant, they explained, you don’t want to end up in the police station for a few weeks.

Festos Okey officially applied for refugee status, so he was not illegal. But he ended up in the police station anyway. What exactly happened there will hopefully become clear in the next weeks. But truth doesn’t change the outcome. Festos died, and is on his way back to Nigeria…

POSTSCRIPT: At the end of June 2010 the Turkish autorities closed the investigation into the death of Festos Okey. They didn’t get the proper identity information from authorities in Nigeria, so the case couldn’t be continued.

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