HENGELO – The suitcase was always ready. So that, if the ground beneath their feet became too hot, they could leave immediately. That moment came in January. By chance Turkish journalist Kamil Ergin, his wife Sema and daughter Ayla ended up in Hengelo.
He has brought his wife and little daughter to the talk, but they prefer to find a place in the city to sit and play. Kamil Ergin (36) has something else to do: tell his story. “It burns inside me and that has to come out.”
He was an English teacher at the Istanbul University. And a volunteer in the Gülen movement, an Islamic movement that strives for renewal and was looking for someone for a new school in the Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo. That seemed like a good fit for Ergin. “I thought for about three years, get a nice experience and then go back to Turkey.”
In the end, he spent fifteen years in what he calls “a very different world. But at the same time quite familiar. “Turkey and Brazil are like two children from the same mother, who have grown apart. Turkey is more direct, stricter ,with a tendency to resolve disagreements with fighting. In Brazil, they prefer to do it with words. Life is more relaxed there.”
Building a bridge
A country on the rise, too. Certainly economically. And therefore also interesting for Turkey. With his journalistic articles, Ergin formed a kind of bridge between the two, also because of his language skills in English and his good contacts, he was often asked to explain the situation in Syria and later also in Turkey. He appeared regularly on television and acted as a guide for Western journalists on visits to refugee camps.
Kamil Ergin was not afraid to speak his mind. “Someone has to have the courage to speak out. Turkey was no longer the country I had left. And I also saw Brazil shifting. I wanted to warn people. That what has happened in Turkey was also possible in Brazil.”
The failed military coup in Turkey in 2016 also turned out to be a turning point for Kamil Ergin’s relatively safe life in São Paulo. Because according to Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, the Gülen movement, whose journalist had gradually become the mouthpiece, had had a hand in the coup. Ergin felt more and more that he was being watched. “I became Turkey’s number 1 enemy in Brazil.”
With the arrival of populist president Jair Bolsonaro in 2019, a different wind also started to blow in Brazil. Until then, that had been fairly neutral with regard to developments in Turkey. The arrest of a Turkish businessman in Brazil shocked the growing Turkish community there. “Especially since he was not a very famous person. So apparently it could happen to any of us. ”
Since no one else did, Ergin began to organize the businessman’s defense. Ultimately, the man was released. But Ergin, because of his role in it, no longer felt safe in the country where he had lived for fifteen years. “The average Brazilian has no idea what is going on in Turkey and started to see me as a terrorist.”
He cut off all contacts with his family in Turkey. So as not to endanger them. Changed his home address, disappeared from social media. He could not flee. His wife had become pregnant and had to rest completely because of a previous miscarriage. “She never left home for two years.”
When daughter Ayla was old enough, the escape plans took on more concrete forms. They wanted to go to the US or Canada. But the girl was denied a visa. A flight to England was canceled at the very last minute. Wife Sema had friends in the Netherlands. “To my surprise, I managed to get a plane ticket there.”
That was in January. The family is now in asylum shelter Hooghagen and he hopes to hear soon whether his asylum application will be granted. In the meantime, they enjoy their newfound freedom. In which the bicycle plays an important role. “My wife in particular enjoys it immensely,” says Ergin. “Because now she can just take to the street again. She slowly feels safe and free again. ”
He is hopeful about his chance to get a residence permit. Although he comes from Brazil, a safe country for the Netherlands. “Yes, for Brazilians. But not for Turks, ”says Ergin. “There are more Gülists in the Netherlands. Their position is known here. At least I have a chance. ”
An opportunity he does not want to miss. He has substantiated his application for asylum, and that of his wife, with two bulky files that he prepared himself. With numerous documents and photos to support his story. His alone is 450 pages thick. He would be told in the coming week whether he could stay in the Netherlands. However, his lawyer says that it is very likely that it will take longer.
In the meantime, Kamil Ergin has taken up his journalistic work again. Including for a German and Brazilian website. He hopes to gradually expand that. “I would like to contribute to Dutch society. But then he has to accept me. ”