Turkey has once again threatened to tear up a controversial migrant deal and send hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers to Europe if its citizens are not granted visa-free travel to the European Union within months.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, demanded the EU drop visa requirements for Turkish citizens by October.
Meanwhile, Syrian children are being raped and abused inside and outside of refugee camps in Turkey.
Nine-Month-Old Syrian Baby Raped; Media Blackout Imposed
A 9-month-old Syrian baby was raped in the Islahiye district of Gaziantep on August 19. The baby is the child of a Syrian family who fled the war in Syria, according to the newspaper Birgun. The family, agricultural day-laborers in Gaziantep, had set up a tent in the field where they work.
On the day of the rape, the parents left their baby with an 18-year-old man before leaving to work a field 100 meters away.
When the parents returned, they saw the young man, a Turkish citizen who works as a shepherd, walking away from the tent. The mother noticed that her baby girl had been raped and took her to a local hospital, where the attack was confirmed.
The governor's office of Antep announced that the young man had been arrested and brought to court.
Huseyin Simsek, the journalist who covered the incident for the newspaper Birgun, said that that he and the newspaper received countless death threats on social media for reporting the rape.
"Today, a 9-month-old baby was raped in Antep. There is a medical report. I am being sworn at, informed on, and threatened with death.
"The incident is real. The doctors say the baby is 7 or 9-months-old. We will keep on writing."
Some Twitter users called the reporter "a PKK terrorist", "a FETO [Gulenist] terrorist", "a traitor" and "a son of a bitch", among others. Other users referred to Birgun as "toilet paper" and called for destroying the newspaper building.
When Samil Tayyar, an Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP from Gaziantep, confirmed the rape on his Twitter account, another Twitter user responded:
"Dear MP, such news should not be used. We are shooting ourselves in the foot. We are giving material to the enemy. Be responsible, please."
He was apparently referring to the recent criticism by Sweden that Ankara was legalizing sex with children.
Turkey's constitutional court, in July, annulled a criminal code provision punishing all sexual acts involving children under the age of 15 as "sexual abuse", giving a six-month period for parliament to draw up a new law.
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström tweeted on her official account that the "Turkish decision to allow sex with children under 15 must be reversed. Children need more protection, not less, against violence, sex abuse."
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek tweeted back: "You are clearly misinformed. There is no such stupid thing in Turkey. Please get your facts right."
Turkey summoned Sweden's ambassador and displayed a billboard in Istanbul's main airport that warned travelers against visiting Sweden.
"Travel warning!" stated a large advertisement on display in the departure section of Ataturk Airport's international terminal. "Do you know that Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide?"
An electronic billboard in Istanbul's Ataturk Airport last month displayed: "Travel warning! Do you know that Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide?" It was posted in retaliation for a critical tweet by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström that read: "Turkish decision to allow sex with children under 15 must be reversed. Children need more protection, not less, against violence, sex abuse." (Image source: Reuters video screenshot)
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said that Wallström had failed to act "responsibly".
However, the facts on the ground indicate that the sexual abuse of children in Turkey is extremely widespread and it is the Turkish state authorities that are not acting responsibly.
The Islahiye Penal Court of Peace in Gaziantep has issued a media blackout on the rape of the Syrian baby.
"Until the investigation is finalized, all kinds of news, interviews, critiques, and similar publications regarding the investigation file have been banned in the written, visual and social media as well as on the internet," the ruling said in part.
30 Syrian Boys Raped at Nizip Camp
The daily, Birgun, also reported in May that 30 Syrian boys between the ages of 8 and 12 had been raped at a refugee camp in the Nizip district of Gaziantep.
The assaults took place, over a period of three months, in the restrooms of the camp, which is run by the Prime Ministry's Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD).
The camp was visited by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkey's then Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and several Turkish ministers, as well as the mayor of the city on April 23, celebrated as "Children's Day" in Turkey. The leaders praised the camp, which houses 14,000 Syrians.
A cleaning worker at the camp paid the children for a few Turkish liras to sexually abuse them. The man confessed his crimes and claimed that "it was the children who motivated him to abuse them."
Eight families of abused children lodged complaints about the attacks. Erk Acarer wrote in Birgun:
"It is understood that some of the families have not lodged complaints against E.E., who sexually abused the children, because they are afraid, since they are asylum seekers in Turkey. That is why they do not want to confront the situation."
AFAD, the state institution that runs the camp, confirmed the rapes:
"AFAD has taken precautions to prevent the repetition of the incident. Psychological support services have been given to those affected by the incident from the beginning."
Syrian Children Sexually Abused at Islahiye Camp
Shortly after the scandal at the Nizip camp, it was reported that five Syrian children staying at the Islahiye refugee camp in Gaziantep, and also run by AFAD, were sexually abused by an 87-year-old Syrian national, Ahmed H., multiple times. Again, the authorities of the camp were not "able" to protect the children, whose ages ranged from 4 to 8.
Two of the abused children were his own grandchildren; one was his niece and the other, his nephew. Ahmed H. -- apparently before the eyes of everyone -- made the children sit on his lap while he sexually abused them.
The crimes were revealed on November 20, 2015, when a person informed local gendarmerie officials of "an elderly man sexually abusing a 2-or 3-year old girl while sitting on his chair in front of the camp."
The children then told the authorities about the abuse they had been exposed to. The abuse was also proven by surveillance cameras.
On May 3, Ahmed H. was acquitted for the sexual abuse of his grandchildren on grounds that "[t]here was not enough persuasive evidence" for a conviction.
As for his trial for abusing the other victims, he was given "good conduct abatement" by the court due to "his positive behavior during the trial process."
"The Syrians Staying Outside of the Camps are... Unprotected."
"The asylum seekers staying at refugee camps are 10 percent of all asylum seekers," said Mahmut Togrul, an MP from the People's Democratic Party (HDP) for the city of Gaziantep.
"The Syrians staying outside of the camps are going through a real drama. People are staying in the streets unprotected. We tried to tell the authorities, but unfortunately no one does their duty in Turkey and they do not deal with fundamental problems"
"Since the AKP has become preoccupied with its own troubles, Syrians have been left to their fate... We are faced with a vile situation. They admit their Syrian policy has been wrong. If they had not carried out that policy, so many people would not be so devastated now. It is not enough to say, 'We have done wrong'. They have to solve the problems caused by this wrong policy. The AKP that has left people idle and uncontrolled has to take responsibility of these people."
"Where Are the 3 Billion Euros?"
In the meantime, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a speech at the Bestepe National Congress and Culture Center on August 24, saying:
"What did they [the Europeans] say?: 'We will give the refugees who come to these camps three billion Euros of aid'. Where is it? This year is almost over. Where is it? Not here."
Reporters and eyewitnesses, however, have revealed that Turkey has allowed jihadists to travel in and out of Turkey and has even provided funds, logistics and arms for extremist groups, including the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Al Nusra Front.
The Turkish government -- along with others in the region -- has turned Syria into a true nightmare, apparently to expand Sunni Turkish influence over Syria and other countries, and to stop Kurds from establishing a free homeland in northern Syria.
Since the war broke out in Syria in 2011, jihadist terror groups have terrorized millions of people, particularly Alawites, Christians and Kurds, and caused millions of people to flee their country. In despair, many Syrians arrived in Turkey and still live under the "temporary protection" of the Turkish government.
If the Turkish government had not facilitated the rise of jihadist terrorism in the region, however, much of this would not have happened.
Turkey now not only leaves Syrian asylum seekers uncared for and unprotected, but is also blackmailing the EU over the Syrians, whose pain and devastation the Turkish authorities are largely responsible for.
Given the increasingly violent crackdown on the Turkish media and pressures against free speech in the country, it is highly probable that the child sexual abuse cases reported in Gaziantep are just the tip of the iceberg.
When Syrian babies and other children, as well as women, are being raped and treated horribly in Turkey, and their abusers go free; when journalists covering these abuses are threatened; when publication bans are imposed on the crimes committed against Syrians, and when criminals are given "good conduct abatement" by courts, Turkey seems to be one of the last countries on earth to have the moral right to demand visa-free travel in Europe or anywhere else.
Robert Jones, an expert on Turkey, is currently based in the UK.