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Turkish Immigration Office rejecting refugee cases certified by the UNHCR

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In 2013 a petition proclaimed “UNHCR’S Resettlement Policies For Iranian Refugees In Turkey Have To Be Revised”. Nothing has changed since then. (Photo: Behnaz Khaghani)

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An atmosphere of fear and apprehension have overwhelmed the Iranian refugee community in Turkey. More than 27,000 Iranian refugees live in Turkey (not including non-registered refugees or those deported) as they await resettlement in a third country. Of these, more than 60% are women and children. Most of the Iranian refugees are political prisoners, civil activists, religious and faith-based activists, and members of the LGBT community. 

Disturbingly, many of the women have suffered discrimination, humiliation, and imprisonment in Iran. Now, many are desperate and under pressure from the Turkish Immigration Office, and are being forced to return to Iran (where they are facing harsh punishments) or leave Turkey for European destinations such as Greece with the aid of human traffickers, taking a huge risk on this unknown journey.

This stems from a policy announced on 10 September 2018 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey. Effective from that date, the Commissioner would not process the cases of asylum seekers or refugees in Turkey, and all processing regarding the refugees would be officially handed over to the Turkish Immigration Office, and the UNHCR would only have a supervisory role over the process.  

Dr. Mali Rozbeh, head of the Iranian Women Organization and a women’s rights activist based in the US, reported; “After arriving in Turkey, they have no rights to employment, or healthcare or insurance. They lack financial assistance and access to education for their children. Registration time, interview appointments, and acceptance as a refugee or political asylum by the UNHCR is complicated and takes many years and lately interview appointments are even cancelled without any explanation by the UNHCR staff.”

“Many refugees are forced to accept illegal jobs because of the lack of the right to employment and are subject to the employer’s abusive behaviors,” Dr. Rozbeh explained. “Most of the time, these refugees don’t receive a fair salary and they are unable to pay for the cost of living including rent, food, transportation and medicine. It is also known that sometimes female asylum seekers are sexually abused or raped at the work places or after hours. Raising any complaints or reporting such crimes would inevitably result in being reported and deported or they end up paying a fine. We cannot emphasize enough the severity and dire situation of the Iranian asylum seekers especially the single women with children who are unable to find jobs and earn a living.”

Citing the responsibility of the United Nations for this suffering, Dr. Rozbeh insisted, “The UNHCR must once more take responsibility for the cases of Iranian refugees in Turkey, especially women and children. Also the UNHCR, through engagement and coordination with third-party countries, should address the transfer process of the refugees who have already been accepted by the UN and have been waiting for years (up to 12 years) to be transitioned to third countries to resettle and avoid the danger of being extradited to Iran.”

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Meanwhile, a Kurdish journalist and refugees rights activist who manages a website on asylums and refugees named “HANA”, believes that what is happening to Iranian refugees is as a result of UNHCR acting in cooperation with Turkish immigration officials since 2018.

Sirwan Mansouri emphasized the fact that Turkey has violated all international laws in relation with refugees including the Geneva Convention on refugees. He then brought up the letter sent to the ECHR: “In an explicit violation of international law, the Turkish Immigration Office has even rejected those refugees whose cases were certified by the UNHCR. Now most of these refugees are in a state of uncertainty and at risk of deportation, while the UNHCR is only watching on the sidelines and doing nothing. These refugees were not given ID cards (known as Kimlik) in most cases and their appeals in Turkish courts will lead to no result.”

Mansouri said in conclusion that all should do their best to make UNHCR responsible for the refugees and to cut off Turkish unjustified interference.

Another expert, Walton K. Martin, is the director of Iranian Refugees Action Network, an advocacy charity for Iranian refugees registered in Pennsylvania. He stated: “In the past eight months, we have sent multiple letters to the following refugee agencies; the U.N. Refugee Agency in Washington, DC, the U.S. State Department, State Department PRM, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration service. Not one of our official letters concerning refugees, refugee status, and refugee protection were replied to by the U.N. or the U.S. government.”

He noted, “One phone call was returned by the UN. However, the representative who returned my call did not have the necessary information available and explained that she would gather the information and get back to us. We did not hear from the UN again after that conversation.”

Martin proclaimed that many refugees have voiced concerns over deportations to Iran, interrogation by Turkish police and intelligence officers, arrest of innocent refugees, and the lack of medical services that were cut off by President Erdogan of Turkey.

“The refugees are usually religious, ethnic, or political minorities, NOT criminals. Many of them are also journalists and bloggers who called the Islamist regime out for their crimes against the people of Iran. An ounce of dissent in Iran is all the reason the Iranian government needs as proof to hang you.” 

Rachel Avraham is a political analyst working at the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights.  She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings at the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”  

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Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

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