A recently deported pastor told how his family's decade-long stay in Turkey came to an abrupt end as that nation becomes more Islamic.
Ryan D. Keating, 39, was pursuing doctoral studies at Ankara University and also headed the Ankara Refugee Ministry (ARM), sponsored by Ankara's Kurtulus (Salvation) Church.
Keating was refused entry by immigration officials at Istanbul's Ataturk airport when he arrived from London on October 17. The officials informed him that the Interior Ministry had issued a "lifetime ban" prohibiting him from returning to Turkey.
Keating had moved to Turkey with his family in 2006. Since 2007 he has been a student at Ankara University as a doctoral student now in his dissertation phase.
Keating's last residence permit, based on his studies at the university, expired on October 3. He made an appointment for a visa extension two weeks before his current residence permit expired.
But things did not go the way he had planned.
On October 8, he was exiting Turkey at Istanbul Ataturk Airport to board a flight for London, planning on spending a week in the UK. At passport control he was prepared to pay for the five days that his residence permit had been expired, which is a standard procedure in the current system. However, he was told there that his residence permit had been cancelled on September 9.
The officials did not give him details about why it was cancelled. "They didn't give me any documentation about my residence permit being cancelled, and they didn't tell me that I was banned from re-entering Turkey," Keating said.
"While in the UK I made some calls and inquiries and I was told that the only way to know whether I was banned from entering was to try to return as scheduled. So I boarded my flight on October 16 with a tourist e-visa, which is also standard procedure between residence permit appointments."
On his arrival in Istanbul, Keating was told that he had "a lifetime ban" and it was related to a "national security" issue.
"At the border in Istanbul I was taken aside, questioned by a plain clothes police officer, and eventually I was told that I couldn't enter Turkey," said Keating.
"The document I was given says that this decision was made on August 29, although I had not been informed of any such decision. I was kept in a locked room with 15 or 20 other men who were also awaiting deportation. The next morning I was escorted to a flight back to London."
Keating's wife and children, ages six through twelve, still live in Ankara while Keating is temporarily in London.
"My wife and children have come to visit me in London for a few days. They will return to our home in Ankara and pack up our house and the life we have built over ten years together in Turkey."
Keating is not the first victim. According to the Association of Protestant Churches, 100 expatriate Protestants have been prevented from serving in Turkey over the past four years. Their visas or residence permits were not extended.
"Religious freedom is a basic human right," said Keating. Any nation that wants to honor human rights must allow people to be actually free with regard to religious choice. And being free with regard to religious choice entails having access to actual advocates of diverse religious options. As a Christian in Turkey I have always respected the religious beliefs of the majority while also modeling another religious option."
However, Christians in Turkey experience discrimination and oppression in several ways, said Keating.
"The media often looks for sensationalist ways to 'expose' the Turkish churches as if they are working in secret or have some hidden agenda, when in reality the churches are transparent and honest. The bureaucratic system often makes it obscure or difficult to pursue more formal recognition or to access state resources that are available to other religious bodies. And Christians often endure the suspicion or hostility of their neighbors, which has of course sometimes included physical violence and even murder."