Hundreds arrested in safety protest at deadly Istanbul New Airport site

Turkish police arrested 600 people on Friday in a major protest over safety and conditions at the huge construction site of Istanbul’s third airport, where 27 workers are known to have died.

On Saturday (15 September), 160 were freed, but 20 more were arrested as unrest continued at one of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s flagship mega-projects, touted by the president as being the largest airport in the world when all stages are finished.

Workers complained of work-related deaths and accidents as well as poor onsite living and labour conditions. Opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet quoted live-in workers complaining about fleas and bed bugs, AFP reports.

Twenty-seven workers have died at Istanbul New Airport, Turkey’s transport minister admitted to press last April, but workers told AFP that the ministry figures were far too low and that accidents were common at the site.

In 2013, a consortium of five Turkish contractors submitted the winning bid to build and operate the airport for 25 years, handing over €22.1bn to the government for the concession.

This consortium, Istanbul Grand Airport (IGA), issued a statement saying management had met the workers and pledged to take measures to resolve the issues quickly.

Some 35,000 people are employed on the project, including 3,000 engineers and administrative staff.

The protest came as IGA prepares to test the airport with the live transfer of 9,000 passengers and 10 planes on 29 October.

Dozens of security personnel, backed by armoured vehicles, controlled access to the site on Saturday, AFP said.

The hashtag supporting the workers, "we are not slaves" (#köledegiliz) was trending strongly in Turkey on Saturday.

In June, Erdogan said the new airport will be the biggest in the world with a first phase capacity of 90 million passengers a year going up to 150 million in 2023.

Image: Istanbul New Airport (IGA)

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  1. The work should be stopped until human rights issues are resolved

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