By Gill Gillespie, Director, Iranian Refugees Action Network:
On September 10, 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Turkey, publishing an official statement on its website which was also posted on the Facebook page of the Commissioner, announced that effective from that date the Commissioner would not process the cases of the asylum seekers in Turkey, and the activities 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.
Following the release of the statement, immigration lawyers and asylum affairs activists made comments to the effect that the Commissioner’s statement was likely to act as a prelude to the termination of its office’s activities in Turkey and the removal of its support from Iranian refugees. But since the UNHCR had declared in its statement that it would only stop the registration process while maintaining its supportive role, the hope remained among the refugees that this would only apply to the refugees who would enter the Turkish soil from that date onward, and those who had been previously registered by the UNHCR in Turkey would not be affected.
However, after a few months the catastrophic nature of the statement became clearer when the UNHCR stopped all its obligations to the Iranian refugees and delegated all its affairs to the Immigration Office of Turkey. What this specifically means is that the UNHCR handed over all the refugee cases to the Immigration Office, and, effectively, from that date onwards, the Immigration Office was mandated to ascertain who is and who is not eligible for asylum and international protection.
But the tragedy did not end there. The Immigration Office then contacted a large number of asylum seekers and refugees in different cities of Turkey, asking them to go to their offices at the dates indicated for interviews. Surprisingly, many of these people had already been interviewed and accepted by the UNHCR, and thus another interview by the Immigration Office constituted a flagrant breach of the 1951 Geneva Conventions and the 6458 Law on Foreigners and International Protection that Turkey had signed.
The sad part of the story is that the cases of many of these individuals were rejected outright; many others were ordered to leave, meaning they should leave Turkey within a certain period of time, otherwise their cases would enter the attritional process of review in Turkish courts. Given all this, an atmosphere of fear and apprehension has overwhelmed the Iranian refugee community in Turkey. Many, desperately and under the pressure of the Immigration Office, are returning to Iran or leaving Turkey for other destinations. Many others are inevitably thinking of moving to Greece with the aid of human traffickers, taking the huge risks of this route.
What is clear is that the UNHCR’s delegating the processing of the cases of the refugees to the Immigration Office, as well as the Immigration Office’s issuing verdicts of leaving the soil for the UN-approved refugees fly in the face of all legal and human rights obligations. In accordance with the Geneva Conventions signed by Turkey and also according to the agreement with the UNHCR, Turkey is obliged to protect the lives of these individuals; and Turkey’s intention to return these people to the country from which they fled is contrary to all the provisions of international treaties and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many of these people fled from Iran after they had been arrested, detained and tortured by the regime; and if they return to Iran, their lives will be seriously in danger.
In view of these facts, it is necessary for all international organizations and individuals in charge of asylum affairs, immigration and human rights lawyers, as well as du jure and de facto human rights defenders to take appropriate measures in order to stop these anti-human acts; urging the UNHCR to once more take responsibility for the cases of Iranian refugees in Turkey. Also, the UNHCR, through engagement and coordination with third-party countries, should address the transfer of the refugees who have already been accepted by the UN and have been waiting for years to be transferred to safe countries so that they can be saved from common refugee problems as well as the danger of being extradited to Iran.
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