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In Defence of Refugees in Turkey
17 oct 2003
Open Letter to all human & civil and refugee organizations

October 17, 2003

To whom it may concern
I am writing to you on behalf of the International Federations of Iranian and Iraqi Refugees to express our serious concern over the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) treatment of Iranian refugee claimants. IFIR has begun an international campaign in defence Iranian asylum seekers sitting strike in Ankara, since October to highlight our concerns and push for legitimate changes in the UNHCR's procedures and practices.

1. Improvement in determination procedures

One of our demands is an immediate improvement in determination procedures, including the disclosure of the reasons for rejection, increasing the number of appeals and interviews and expediting reviews. At the moment, the determination procedure lacks safeguards which are necessary to ensure full and fair hearings. Refugee claimants are interviewed without any legal assistance or advice and with insufficient information on their rights and the legal framework. Many times, the first interview is the only opportunity they get to present their claims; despite this, claimants are often not permitted to explain their cases fully with many referring to the determination interview as an interrogation. Even notes taken by UNHCR interviewing officers are not read back to claimants to ensure accuracy.

Once rejected, claimants have thirty days to appeal the negative decision. Since the UNHCR does not give claimants the reasons for their refusal, the appeal is effectively meaningless. Many have their case files closed without even being given a second interview. Those whose case files are closed, can only have them reopened by submitting 'new information'; there is no official procedure for this and those whose case files are closed can be deported at anytime by the Turkish authorities.

A fair determination procedure requires that claimants have complete information on their rights, the framework and procedures, they be given the reasons for their refusal in order to refute the negative decision, and that they have the right to multiple interviews and appeals. This is not the case with the UNHCR in Turkey. The Federations are aware of many refugees who have been rejected and their case files closed as a result of this inadequate determination procedure; many have been refuelled to persecution as a result.

The provision of reasons for refusal is instrumental in allowing claimants to defend themselves. A few years ago, the UNHCR agreed to give IFIR such reasons for rejection; as a result nearly all cases we advocated for were granted status. Given the high success rate, the UNHCR ended this soon after. Clearly, the provision of the reasons for refusal and establishing several appeals and interviews with the intervention of refugee advocates will ensure a fairer and more effective determination procedure.

2. Re-opening and reviewing all closed case files

In light of the unfair and inadequate determination procedures, we are calling for the reopening and reviewing of all closed and these files who have been in sitting strike since 22 September 2003:

1-MR, Babak shadidi Case No: S-5938
2-MR, Alireza alizadeh moghadam Case No: A-7561
3-MR, Sadeghe torab mostaedi Case No: T-1338
4- MRS, Nazila mohamad hasani zamani Case No: M-7217
5- MRS, Farideh asadi Case No: J-1402

3. Provision of basic living and health needs

While asylum seekers in many Western countries with more advanced standards are given basic living and health assistance, the UNHCR gives none whatsoever to refugee claimants. This is while the Turkish government denies non-European claimants and refugees the right to work and live permanently in Turkey. The non-provision of such assistance means that many live in abject poverty and misery. Even many of those who are recognised after months and years of waiting are denied any financial assistance. The UNHCR is duty-bound to ensure that claimants and refugees have their basic living and health needs met. Furthermore, international refugee norms require that claimants are housed in areas away from the countries they have fled. Currently, those who have entered Turkey without documents are forced to live in unsafe border towns like Van and Agri where agents of Islamic terrorist states and groups have access to the refugees. We urge the UNHCR to transfer claimants from border areas and provide them with basic living assistance.

4. Resettlement

Given that the government of Turkey does not allow non-Europeans to reside permanently in Turkey, is known to deport claimants and even refugees recognised by the UNHCR, and often harasses and abuses refugees, we call for the immediate resettlement of all those recognised by the UNHCR. This includes those Iranians who have fled Iraqi Kurdistan because of the UNHCR's inactivity and the general insecurity there. They too must be resettled by the UNHCR from Turkey and not forced back to Iraqi Kurdistan nor deemed 'IM' (irregular movers who according to the UNHCR should have remained in Iraqi Kurdistan though many have been assassinated there, it is insecure and hundreds have been waiting resettlement for years).

5. Intervention against deportations

The Turkish government is known to brutalise, abuse and deport claimants and refugees. Most recently, Karim Tuzhali, a refugee refouled from Turkey to Iran, was executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. 50-year-old Khaled Shoghi, who was forcibly returned from Turkey and arrested in 1997, has been tortured and recently sentenced to death by the Islamic regime in Iran. We know of many cases that were deported, arrested and imprisoned when their case files were closed by the UNHCR. The UNHCR is responsible for the lives of claimants and refugees in Turkey and must intervene to prevent deportations to Iran, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan and Afghanistan. We urge the UNHCR to cease collaborations with the Turkish authorities in deportations. There must be an end to deportations to these countries.

6. Recognise the right to asylum of those fleeing Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan Iran and Afghanistan and deem those countries unsafe

Given the well-known unsafe and insecure situation in these countries, the gross violations of civil rights, sexual apartheid and the imposition of Islamic laws and customs, we urge the UNHCR to recognise these countries as unsafe and respect the right to asylum of all those fleeing Iran, Iraq, Northern Iraq and Afghanistan, especially women and children. Even if we live in a post-cold war anti asylum period, which deems previously genuine refugees as 'illegal' migrants and 'failed' asylum seekers, the realities of life in these countries and the persecution faced by political opponents, women, children, religious minorities and atheists, rights activists, gays and lesbians, labour activists, etc. requires that they be granted protection. They are not receiving such protection in Turkey from the UNHCR at this time.

8. Recognise the right to protest

For those who have no lawyers, no access to a meaningful appeal process, no adequate information on their rights, any permanent legal status, and who are living under the constant fear of deportation to persecution, the right to protest becomes critical. The UNHCR denies this right by calling on the Turkish authorities to break up any sit-ins and protests at its offices, have protestors arrested and even deported. We urge the UNHCR to recognise the civil right of refugees and claimants to protest.

While there are many other problems and lack of rights faced by refugees and claimants in Turkey, the Federations believe that changes in any of the above will seriously improve the status of those who have fled to Turkey from Iran, Iraq, Northern Iraq and Afghanistan. We look to the UNHCR to immediately take measures to address them. Anything less will be a miscarriage of justice.

We look forward to your response.

For joining our Campaign please write to UNHCR in Geneva and Ankara and copy to us, or sign this petition:

Farshad Hoseini

International Federation of Iranian Refugees
Sindicat Terrassa