Iranian refugees in Cyprus, like refugees around the world, have long endured the lack of rights and the exploitation that comes without having a recognized legal status within society. Yet while the dire circumstance of Iranian refugees in places like Turkey and Greece are better known, a veil of silence is draped across the abuses of human rights inflicted on refugees in Cyprus.
Iranian refugees themselves have been working hard to break that silence. They have climbed to the tops of water towers to demand their rights. They are organizing themselves to demand their rights online. And when they are illegally detained in places like Larnaca and Limassol, they protest inside of the prisons.
The video clips presented here show the conditions inside of the prison in Larnaca where a number of Iranian refugees are illegally detained, and where several participated in a hunger strike last month, among other protest actions they have engaged in.
The first clip shows that these illegally-detained asylum-seekers have hung a sheet across the bars in the detention facility upon which is written their declaration of protest and their signatures. The banner expresses the sentiment “Death or Freedom,” and shows the signatures of the refugees. Beneath the signatures, it declares “We are humans, not animals. We need an answer.”
The second clip presents a series of short interviews with illegally detained Iranian refugees who were on hunger strike. The demands of their hunger strike were as follows:
1- We demand the immediate release of Mr. Hossein Hossein-nejad Seresty (arc : 5506241) and his wife Mrs. Roghayeh Hossein Nezadeh (arc : 5506240) and their immediate unification with their 3-year-old child. [The couple’s child was illegally taken from them and given to a local Cypriot family].
2- We demand the immediate release of all asylum seekers who have been detained on no other grounds than not having a visa or a valid passport.
3- We demand review of our asylum applications, corrections made to our files with the help of a reliable interpreter other than Mr. Khalaj, and new rulings on our cases based on our corrected documents.
The refugees each tell a little bit about their stories, highlighting the illegality of their detention and the violations of their rights they have faced, and describe the absolute lack of response to their situation by the UN or human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch. The clip has been subtitled in English, and the transcript appears below the clip in this post:
Interviewer: Hi Nima. Can you tell us about yourself?
Nima: I have been in this country for 9 years. They have put me in this jail for 7 months without giving me an answer about an interview. My wife and kids are somewhere out there. The conditions here are awful. We don’t get enough light or sunshine. Really horrible conditions. I don’t even want to talk about the food.
Interviewer: Has any human rights organization or the UN contacted you so far? To offer help of any kind?
Nima: No one has contacted me or has offered to help me. I have received no answers from human rights.
Interviewer: What about you Mojtaba? What is your story?
Mojtaba: I have been here [in Cyprus] about 8 years and a few months They arrested me and then they told me I had to leave the country. They went to my house and took all of my documents. These were my official documents against the Islamic Republic. I have asked for my papers but they won’t give me back my documents. I have been in detention for 11 months. I don’t see enough sunshine and the food is all beans and lentils, it is not good. And we can’t get an answer from anyone!
Interviewer: Hi Ruhollah. What about you? Have you not broken your hunger strike yet? Can you talk?
Ruhollah: No, I can’t.
Interviewer: How many days has it been since you started [your hunger strike]?
Ruhollah: It has been 9 days.
Interviewer: 9 days! So can you talk? Or should I talk for you?
Ruhollah: No, you talk for me.
Interviewer: Our friend Ruhollah here has been here for 9 months. He was arrested after his first month here [in Cyprus] and he has been in Larnaca jail for 8 months now. He made his request for asylum here in jail. During these 8 months, he has received no answer to his asylum request. He was taken for an interview once, which was just a mock interview. It was not official, it was full of lies, and he received no papers.
Mohammad: My name is Mohammad. I am a refugee in Cyprus. I have been here for 6 years. All this time I have not received a letter regarding an interview. One day I went to fill out a change of address form and there I was arrested. And now I have been here for 5 months. After 5 months they forced me into an interview where my translator is someone who works directly with the Iranian consulate in Cyprus. During the interview he gave his opinion about my answers – if he thought I was telling the truth or not. And this was their idea of a formal interview. Then they give you a rejection answer, and then they will tell you to leave or get deported. And we don’t know what to do. And every organization we have contacted like Human Rights Watch or the United Nations, they don’t answer. As if when it comes to Cyprus they all have agreed to just get rid of us from here. Right now my asylum request case is still open; that means I should not be in detention while my case is still open. And when I tell them, “You should release me,” they say “No, we can’t because it is the law.”
Translation from Farsi to English: Soheila Nikpour, Iranian Refugee Amnesty Network
The International Coalition for the Rights of Iranian Refugees fully supports the demands of the detained Iranian asylum-seekers. Additionally, given recent statements by the Islamic Republic’s General Prosecutor Mohsen Eje’i and others clearly stating that anyone who files for political asylum will be prosecuted for propagating against the regime should they be returned to Iran, we also demand prima facie status for Iranian refugees.
The ICRIR has called for protest actions against the crimes committed by the government of Cyprus against Iranian and other refugees in Cyprus during the week of May 8, 2011. An action for Washington DC is confirmed, and activists in Brussels and Berlin are also planning actions for that week. Activists in other cities who would like to participate are invited to submit their event information to Maria Rohaly (firstname.lastname@example.org); this information will be published and disseminated by ICRIR members and our extended activist network.
Members of the ICRIR include Action for Democracy and Human Rights in the Middle East, International Federation for Iranian Refugees, Iranian Refugees Action Network, Iranian Refugee Amnesty Network, and Mission Free Iran.