Kurdish refugee Hogir Alay is believed to have committed suicide, authorities say. Friends and family are skeptical and demand change.

Friends and family of Hogir Alay hold a vigil.  The young Kurd died under mysterious circumstances.

There are still many unanswered questions. Vigil for Hogir Alay. The young Kurd was only 24 years old. Photo: Hogir Alay Initiative

KUSEL TAZ When Hogir Alay's body was found in November in a forest near the town of Kusel in Rhineland-Palatinate, those responsible quickly became certain: it was a suicide. The young Kurdish man lived in the refugee accommodation on whose land the forest area is located.

The 24-year-old had repeatedly complained about the poor conditions of his accommodation, apparently to no avail. The investigation into the circumstances of his death was closed. But family and friends do not want to accept this: his questions have not yet been fully answered. “Of course we will not leave things like this,” says Mukaddes Yenigün, representative of the Hogir Alay initiative.

Hogir Alay fled to Germany with his wife from the southeastern Turkish city of Kızıltepe for political reasons in February 2023. Kurds like him are being persecuted under Erdoğan's government. Alay requested asylum in Germany and was housed in the Kusel refugee center.

Conditions there were problematic, according to family and friends who have come together to form the Hogir Alay initiative. The refugee complained several times due to psychological stress, for example due to repeated room moves. He is also said to have been frequently harassed and attacked by security personnel. He wanted to contact the accommodation management several times, but the translators present on site refused to translate his concerns, according to the initiative, because it would damage the reputation of the accommodation.

Missing for weeks

Finally, Alay wrote an email to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bamf). He responded that state authorities were responsible for his concerns. When asked by the taz, the Bamf wrote that Alay had been “informed and given additional information about the responsible authorities and other counseling options.”

Hogir Alay was in close contact with his family and spoke to them regularly about his situation. It is said that he had a deep bond, especially with his father. “Not a day went by without me calling his father,” says Mukaddes Yenigün. Consequently, there was great concern when Alay stopped answering his cell phone as of October 11, 2023 and his family could no longer contact him. His brother Şiyar Alay, who lives in Austria, is said to have called the Kusel police several times and asked them to look for Hogir Alay. At his request, Şiyar Alay's German teacher is said to have contacted the police several times.

When asked by the taz, the Kusel police stated that they only learned about Hogir Alay's case after his death. “The person had not been reported missing until that moment. “The police did not have any information or leads that would suggest a missing person case,” the response said.

“Right now I'm laughing with rage,” says Yenigün. “We have call lists from October 15, in which his brother, together with a German teacher, spoke to the police from Austria several times and asked them to file a missing person report. “There is also communication by email.” Police and prosecutors stressed in a joint press release in early February that they were only asked to “inform the man that he should contact his family.”

Doubts about the official version

When the investigation stops, Alay's body is taken to Turkey. An autopsy should be performed there. But due to the poor condition of the body, the local doctor complained that it was no longer possible. This is what the initiative reports. They continue: When Alay was found, the body was in such poor condition that he could only be identified by the tattoo on his stomach. The doctor concludes that the time of death cannot be determined exactly: it was between October 17 and November 4, when Alay was found.

That's when the family begins to have doubts: How can a person stay there for two weeks without anyone seeing them? Why wasn't the body discovered sooner even though it was on the property? One detail in particular makes them reflect: “His feet touched the ground almost up to his knees,” says Yenigün. This can also be seen in the photographs of the body found, which are available to the taz. Doctors in Turkey told the family that height was too low to commit suicide.

The Hogir Alay initiative demands education and justice. “Our greatest wish is to know what happened to Hogir,” Şiyar Alay tells taz. His brother wanted to “finally live and work freely and without fear.” “Having to leave your homeland as a Kurd because of all the threats in Turkey, only to return dead, that was not what Hogir had dreamed of.”

Thanks to their legal advice and public pressure, the initiative managed to reopen the investigation. These were discontinued again last Thursday. In a joint press release from the Kaiserslautern public prosecutor's office and the West Palatinate police headquarters, the authorities again mentioned suicide as the cause of death. The investigation revealed “no evidence of foul play.” Alay saw himself “at the limit of his strength shortly before his death,” according to the statement. This arises from investigations into his personal environment and evaluation of his cell phone communications.

Very few offers of help

How could Alay end up in such a desperate situation? This question inevitably leads us to Alay's attempts to change something about his housing situation. The Ministry of Integration of the Land of Rhineland-Palatinate, responsible for the reception centres, refers to the complaints management procedure of the Directorate of Supervision and Services (ADD), “which is being implemented and progressively developed in the centres. ” as well as the use of external ombudsmen that offer consultation hours. At the Kusel refugee accommodation, the ombudsman has consultation hours every two weeks.

The State Council for Refugees criticizes the fact that a volunteer cannot fully address complaints. The ADD social service, for its part, is not independent. Low-threshold complaints offices with suitable translators speaking multiple languages ​​are needed. Complaints management must also have powers to be able to introduce changes. In response to a question from taz, the refugee council said this “in our opinion is not possible at this time.”

Clara Bünger, a left-wing member of the Bundestag, shares these demands: “It would be a step in the right direction if independent, well-equipped complaints offices existed in all reception centres, where refugees could go,” she says. Bünger calls for “inhumane mass housing to be replaced by decentralized housing” in the long term.

Hogir Alay's supporters have now founded a second initiative: Pena-Ger. They operate social media channels on Instagram and Twitter where refugees can seek help, so far in Kurdish, Turkish and German. Many refugees contacted the initiative anonymously and reported similar complaints to Hogir Alay, says Mukaddes Yenigün. “Any one of them could be the next Hogir if we don't act,” he says. The initiative wants to make the concerns of refugees heard. His goal: “That someone really listens, person to person, because we are people.”