Human Rights, Solidarity with Refugees

Demanding Recognition of the Rights of Iranian and Other Refugees in Turkey: Open Letter to UNHCR Ankara and UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva

December 13, 2010

Carol A. Batchelor
Representative, UNHCR Ankara
12 Cadde, 212. Sokak No.3 Sancak Mahallesi
Ankara, Turkey
Tel: +90 312-409-7000
Fax: +90 312-441-2173

Ms. Carol A. Batchelor:

We are writing to you on behalf of the International Coalition for the Rights of Iranian Refugees to express our grave concern over the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) violation of the fundamental human rights of Iranian and other refugee claimants in Turkey.

Under the UN Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, asylum seekers have an inalienable right to asylum, protection and no forced return to their country of origin. And the mandate of the UNHCR is to provide refugees international protection under the auspices of the United Nations, and seek permanent solutions for the problem of refugees by assisting governments and private organizations to facilitate integration of refugees within new national communities.

Yet when it comes to Iranian and other refugees in Turkey and elsewhere, UNHCR chooses not to uphold the rights of these refugees, and refuses to comply with its own mandate. Asylum applications take far too long to process, living conditions for asylum-seekers are untenable, Iranian refugees in Turkey are subject to abuse and violence by both Turkish police as well as agents of the Islamic Republic, and many refugees are denied official status without cause.

We do not accept such violations of the rights of Iranian refugees, and we, jointly with Iranian refugees in Turkey, therefore make the following demands:

1. Given the objective conditions in the Islamic Republic of Iran, we demand that UNHCR immediately recognize Iranians fleeing their country as prima facie refugees.

Iranian refugees arriving in Turkey or any other country should, under ministerial declaration, be:

– allowed freely across the border,
– registered by state immigration officials at the point of entry, and
– be granted their prima facie recognition on a group basis.

The lists of names of Iranian refugees collected by state immigration officials should then be given immediately and directly to UNHCR for registration and assistance with resettlement. This assistance should be rendered immediately, efficiently, fairly, and transparently, with resettlement arrangements made within a period of no more than 2 months.

2. Until our primary demand is implemented, we demand that UNHCR take immediate steps to ensure that the status determination procedures are efficient, fair, and transparent, and that UNHCR and its affiliated organizations are accountable to asylum-seekers:

a) UNHCR staff knowledge, practices, and attitudes must be professionalized:

– Interviews must be made comfortable; asylum-seekers should not feel criminalized by interviewers.
– Translators must be proficient in Farsi as well as Iranian culture to ensure that refugees’ accounts are recorded correctly and in full.
– UNHCR staff may not deny asylum-seekers’ claims on the basis of personal beliefs about apostasy.
– UNHCR staff must make asylum-seekers aware of the full range of their rights.
– UNHCR must ensure that their staff do not have ties to the Islamic Republic; such staff expose asylum seekers to regime violence and deliberately undermine asylum seekers’ cases.
– UNHCR staff must be trained annually in processing cases of Iranian refugees, given that the demographic profile of asylum seekers varies according to the changing social and political climate in Iran.

b) Staffing levels and professional training must be immediately increased to ensure the following:

– The first interview should occur no more than 3 months after registration.
– A report should be generated within 2 weeks of the visit and included in their file for the first interview.
– The second interview should occur no more than 3 months after the first interview.
– Rejection or approval for refugee status should occur no more than 2 months after the second interview.

c) In the case of application rejection:

– Full and clear reasons for rejection must be disclosed in detailed format, directly to the refugee, immediately after a decision has been made.
– The number of appeals must be increased and reviews must be expedited.
– In light of the current unfair and inadequate determination procedures, we demand that all rejected case files immediately be reopened and reviewed under the standards for UNHCR’s operation demanded here.

d) Safeguards for asylum seekers must be immediately put into place:

– UNHCR must ensure that health services (both physical and psychological) staffed by qualified medical personnel are offered free of charge to asylum-seekers at the time of registration. Health facilities providing these services to refugees must be documentably in compliance with international standards.

– UNHCR must establish accountability for its operations in Turkey by immediately developing a reporting system whereby refugee complaints about UNHCR and/or UNHCR-affiliated NGOs may be filed and their complaints quickly resolved.

– UNHCR must coordinate with the Turkish police to stop police abuse of refugees (verbal and physical abuse, as well as extortion).

– UNHCR must ensure that collaborating agencies and NGOs mandated to assist asylum seekers, for example ASAM, are free from corrupt practices and treat refugees fairly and in accordance with their rights.

– The Turkish government is known to brutalise, abuse and illegally deport claimants and refugees to Iran, frequently to their deaths or disappearance. The UNHCR is responsible for the lives of asylum-seekers and refugees in Turkey. UNHCR must immediately cease its collaboration with Turkish authorities in refouling Iranian refugees, and must actively intervene to prevent deportations.

The current situation in Turkey, which has been ongoing for years, is not now nor has it ever been acceptable. Our organizations will continue to campaign against the UNHCR until human rights violations cease and our refugees are protected by the UNHCR, according to its remit.

We expect the UNHCR to immediately take measures to address these demands. The process of granting prima facie status to Iranian refugees must be fast-tracked. Anything less is unacceptable and will be met with continued public protests and action, including legal action, against the UNHCR.

We look forward to your response.

Soheila Nikpour
Maria Rohaly
Emanoel Yeshua
Walton Martin
International Coalition for the Rights of Iranian Refugees
phone: 202.630.0385

* International Refugee and Civil and Human Rights Organizations

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