At least 61 people died in a shipwreck in Lake Van (Wan) on 27 June.
The victims were asylum seekers, mostly from Afghanistan. There are still bodies in the lake which remain to be found, including the the body of the boat owner, Sedat Akbaş. Twenty-eight of the bodies have so far been sent back to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
While 34 of the corpses were determined to be from Afghanistan, four from Pakistan, and one from Iran, 33 of the 61 bodies were buried in the Orphanage Cemetery in Van.
Van Lake is a dangerous migration route used by people trying to move west from the border to major cities, such as Ankara and Istanbul, or further beyond to Europe.
As part of the investigation launched into the incident, nine people, including Medeni Akbaş, who survived by swimming from the boat, were arrested. There has been no progress in the investigation in the last five months.
Lawyer Mahmut Kaçan, from the Van Bar Association Migration and Asylum Commission, said the “impunity policy is being applied again”, and that because of confidentiality measures none of the lawyers were informed about the case. Kaçan spoke to the Mesopotamia News Agency about the process of the file.
“Even the statements of the detainees on trial were not shared with us”, said lawyer Kaçan. Describing the boat disaster as a “massacre”, Kaçan stated that such an investigation should be carried out quickly and effectively. He gave the example of another accident in Van Lake six months before the incident in June.
“Six months before this accident, the boat user responsible for the death of seven immigrants in Lake Van in the Adilcevaz district of Bitlis (Bıdlîs) was detained for only 27 days”.
Stating that refugee transitions have been continuing in Van for decades, Kaçan said, “Transitions continue to increase, especially in the summer season. Unfortunately, in a region where there is so much trafficking, the work of human rights organisations, immigrants, and asylum-oriented non-governmental organisations is ineffective”.
Kaçan said that the increase in the number of deaths in Van Lake is due to the lack of control since 2018. “In 2018 the United Nations Refugee High Commissioner handed over the task of determining the refugee status of asylum seekers’ records entirely to the government of Turkey. Since they have closed their offices in Van, people are now trying to reach European countries by taking serious risks. Turkey does not take enough responsibility. That is why refugee deaths continued to increase in Van after 2018”.