On Friday of last week, seven Turkish Cypriot families were given the news they had been praying for: that their loved ones can finally be returned to the soil of their birth for burial.
Originally from Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriots – six men and one woman – had died in Britain of coronavirus (Covid-19), but due to objections by the TRNC Health Minister Ali Pilli, they could not be repatriated.
For weeks their bodies have been held in the morgue of Shacklewell Lane Mosque in East London, while the families mounted a public campaign to force the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) to end its ban on human remains from abroad.
The breakthrough came after Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay broke rank with the government to back the families. He publicly called for all Turkish Cypriots who had died abroad, including those killed by the coronavirus, to be allowed the right to be buried in their homeland.
Speaking on state broadcaster BRT on 22 May, Dr Özersay said he “hoped the health authorities would soon allow for all deceased to be repatriated, regardless of how they died.”
A week later, a decision by the TRNC Council of Ministers on 29 May paved the way for just that. Following the Ministerial-level meeting, the government announced that, “Citizens who died abroad due to the coronavirus will also be allowed to be brought to the country for burial.”
It follows an earlier Council of Ministers decree, made on 14 May, which partially lifted the TRNC government’s ban on human remains, imposed in March as part of the government’s lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The news was welcomed by the families of Mustafa Enver (65), brothers Erdal (62) and Erbay Yılmaz (66), care workers Sonya Kaygan (26) and Hakkan Seyyar (49), retired business man Orhan Mehmet Misiri and supermarket worker Hasan Zort (64).
Speaking to T-VINE immediately after the decision was announced, Kenan Nafi, a relative of Sonya Kaygan, said, “We can barely believe it. It’s brilliant news. It’s the right decision.”
Ayşen Rezvan told T-VINE, “We are happy we can finally send our brother [Mustafa Enver] home. That was his wish. Our 92-year-old mother has been waiting patiently for weeks to bury her son.”
Father of three Mustafa Enver died of Covid-19 in hospital on 11 April. He is the second sibling the family have lost, after another of Ms Rezvan’s brothers died in a traffic accident in North Cyprus some years ago.
Hanife Gillingham said it was “fantastic news” that the TRNC government had ditched its Covid-19 ban, allowing her 78 year-old father Orhan Mehmet Misiri, to be laid to rest in his village of Kaleburnu. Mr Misiri had contracted Covid-19 in hospital and passed away on 22 April.
Orhan Misri is one of three members of the same family who will be repatriated to North Cyprus for burial. His cousin, 81-year-old Emete Mustapha, and sister-in-law Adile Misiri, aged 82, will also be making the trip to their home village of Kaleburnu, at the base of the Karpaz panhandle.
All eighteen Turkish Cypriots who passed away in Britain during the coronavirus pandemic are expected to start their final journey to North Cyprus this weekend.
Turkish Cypriots who died of Covid-19 in UK (l-r): Hakan Seyyar, Sonya Kaygan and Orhan Misiri