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Europe Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 11:30 GMT
Freedom: desperately seeking asylum
With a British general election imminent, immigration policy holds a place close to the centre of the national stage. Desperately Seeking Asylum tells the story of one man's attempt to secure political asylum in Britain, and raises some fundamental questions about the way the system works. Edward Stourton reports.

The asylum debate is often conducted beneath a shroud of prejudice - prejudice of course against immigrants from Africa and the Middle East, but sometimes also prejudice about the countries from which they come. Turkey has a well-established reputation as a state that abuses human rights.

An abuser of human rights

That reputation is the principle obstacle to Turkish membership of the European Union, and there is plenty of objective evidence to support it. In the fifteen years of Turkey's war with the Kurdish PKK an estimated thirty thousand people were killed, hundreds of thousands of people were driven from their homes and torture was commonplace.

Asur Saribel claimed political asylum in Britain in 1996. He told the British authorities that he had been politically active in Istanbul, and had been involved with the underground movement Dev Sol.

Asur Saribel with Anna
He also said he had refused to do his military service because he was a Kurd - and did not want to fight in a war against his fellow Kurds - and provided a detailed account of what he said was a long history of trouble with the Turkish police. His asylum request was turned down twice, but finally allowed on appeal in 2000.

What the British authorities missed

We travelled the length and breadth of Turkey to find out whether the information Asur Saribel gave the British authorities matched the evidence of those he knew at home.

In the mountains of Anatolia we found relations who insisted the Saribel family is not Kurdish, and denied all knowledge of the harrassment Asur said he had endured on account of his religion and ethnicity.

In the seaside town of Bodrum those who had worked alongside Asur in the hotel trade rejected any suggestion that he was politically active, and denied his story that he lived there under an assumed name which had been given to him by Dev Sol.

Dead or alive?

Abidin Saribal, Asur's father
The British Asylum Tribunal stated that Asur Saribel's father had died under torture in Diyarbakir prison - we found him living peacefully in Istanbul. The Turkish police in Ankara looked up Asur Saribel in their computer system. He is listed as a draft dodger, but they had no record of him being arrested or detained in connection political activity - or anything else.

When we asked the Immigration Appellate Authority about our evidence they told us they cannot comment on individual cases. But our investigation raises broader questions about the way the system is operating - and indeed about whether the familiar image of Turkey as an incorrigible abuser of human rights really does stand up to scrutiny in every case.

Charged with murder

Anna Galliano
There is a further twist to this story. In 1995 Asur Saribel became engaged to a young English woman, Anna Galliano, after a holiday romance in Bodrum. She returned to Britain for her first term at university, and apparently began to have second thoughts about the relationship.

Anna Galliano went back to Istanbul to face Asur Saribel before Christmas that year, and during her visit she apparently, according to Saribel, collapsed on the street and later died in hospital.

The cause of her death has never been conclusively established, but three years later Asur Saribel was charged with her murder in Turkey. The charge is still outstanding.

Asur refused to participate in the programme
Asur Saribel is now married and lives and works in the south of England. The Galliano family is still haunted by the uncertainty surrounding Anna's death. With witnesses from the seaside resort of Bodrum to the ancient silk route city of Diyarbakir, Correspondent investigates the true identity of Asur Saribal.

What does his story tell us about relations between the EU and the biggest of the nations applying to join the club? And what does it mean for the freedom to seek asylum?

Live chat Sunday 2005 GMT:

Click here for transcripts

Desperately seeking Asylum:
1920 GMT, Sunday 22nd April on BBC 2.

Reporter: Edward Stourton
Producer: Robin Barnwell
Executive Producer: Farah Durrani
Series Producer: Kate Snell

The BBC's Edward Stourton:
Desperately seeking Asylum
Edward Stourton
"A holiday romance"
Edward Stourton
"A reconstruction of the day Anna Galliano died."
Edward Stourton
"A melancholy mission to bring his daughter home."
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