Children are Refugees Too:
Iranian Refugee Children in Turkey
Azadeh, a 13 year old Iranian national, fled to Turkey with her mother almost
two years ago. Her father was executed by the Iranian government because
of his political activities. She is subject to deportation by the Turkish
authorities as her mother's refugee claim has been rejected by the Office
of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). She is unable to make
a refugee claim as such right is non-existent in Turkey. "I don't understand,"
she says. "Why isn't it enough for the UN that my father was executed.
I do not want to be sent back to Iran. I don't want my mother to be executed
like my father."
Surur is 9 years old. She fled to Turkey with her family more than two years
ago. Her father, a Kurd in Iran, has been a political prisoner during most
of her lifetime. During his imprisonment, Surur had no visitation rights
and suffered from poverty due to her mother's meager income. She faced systemic
discrimination as a result of her father being a persona non grata in jail.
At school, although in grade one, she was repeatedly admonished, beaten
and incarcerated by school officials because of failure to cover her hair,
to memorize the Scripture or to learn how to pray. Surur is currently threatened
with deportation by the Turkish authorities as a result of her father's
refugee claim being rejected by the UNHCR. Like Azadeh, during the time
that she has been in Turkey, she has had no access to education, welfare
and health system. Her life in Turkey has been constant anxiety, destitution
Loss of loved ones, economic and social deprivation because of parent's
political opinion, forced indoctrination into religio-sexist dogmas, discrimination
against girls, and harassment at schools suffered by Azadeh and Surur are
typical experiences for Iranian children. The laws and practices of the
Islamic government in today's Iran deny children access to fundamental freedoms
and rights as articulated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees children the full
range of economical, social, cultural, civil and political rights. As part
of the larger population, children in Iran do not enjoy fundamental human
rights. Rights such as freedom of expression, religion, association, assembly
and privacy are non-existent in Iran for children, just as they are for
adults. The over-riding principle of the Convention on the Rights of the
Child is "the best interests of the child". Instead, children's
interests in Iran are governed by the interests of religion; children are
taught to spy on their parents, boys of 10 or 12 years are led to join the
military and marriages of 9 year old girls are sanctioned by the government.
Clearly, such practices inflict irreparable damages to children's physical
well being as well as disturb their psychological and emotional development.
The UN 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee
as a person who is outside of his country and has a well founded fear of
persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership
in a particular social group. Children whose rights, as defined by the Convention
on the Rights of the Child, are violated may qualify as refugees under any
of the enumerated grounds.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child accords a special attention to
child refugees and asylum seekers. Article 22 provides that, "a child
who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee shall, whether
unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or any other person,
receive appropriate protection and assistance in the enjoyment of applicable
rights set forth in the present convention and other international human
rights or humanitarian instruments." The reference to rights under
other international instruments applies principally to 1951 Convention on
the Status of Refugees, which entitles refugees not to be returned to their
country of origin. Thus, a main objective of Article 22 is to ensure that
despite their status as children, the claims of children to refugee status
are examined on their merits so that they receive protection from being
returned to persecution.
Turkey is apparently a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the
Child. Under Article 2, State Parties are obliged to "respect and ensure
the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their
jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind', and without regard to
the child's status. State Parties not only are required to refrain from
interference with the articulated rights, but also to take active measures
to enable children to exercise these rights." They can not use resource
constraints as an excuse to curtail rights such as freedom of expression,
religion, association, assembly and privacy and with regard to economic,
social and cultural rights, State Parties "shall undertake such measures
to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within
the framework of international co-operation." (Article 4).
Despite clear obligations that Turkey has undertaken towards children, the
government denies all non-European child asylum seekers the full range of
their human rights. Turkey justifies this by a geographical limitation that
it exercises on the application of the Refugee Convention. The government
of Turkey officially denies the fundamental rights of the children of non-citizens
such as the right to education, health care, association, etc. In determining
applications for temporary asylum, Turkey's new determination procedure
precludes children rights and the principle of their best interests.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child also assigns a special role
to the UNHCR, since it has an extensive involvement with the needs of children
(Article 45). More than half of the worlds refugee population are children.
Yet Azadeh and Surur and many other child asylum seekers in Turkey do not
receive proper assistance from the UNHCR in Turkey.
Children's claims are not included in their parents' cases by the UNHCR
Office in Turkey. Nor are children invited by the UNHCR to speak about their
fears to return. Article 12 of the Convention says that children capable
of forming their own views have the right to be heard in judicial or administrative
procedures affecting them. This is, of course, regardless of whether or
not their parents are in a position to make a claim on their behalf. Since
it is also unreasonable to expect children to enter into such procedures
on their own, in order to ensure their right, it is the onus of the examining
authorities to make this possible for the children--for them to be heard
and to lodge their claims.
Regarded as appendages to their parents, children have also been refused
any form of material assistance by the UNHCR while their parents have been
caught up in prolonged determination procedures. Fundamental needs such
as pre-natal care, hospitalization for delivery and even assistance to handicapped
or seriously ill children have been denied to those children whose parents
have not been recognized as refugees by the UNHCR or have had their cases
Iranian Refugees' Alliance first and foremost calls on the UNHCR, as the
body entrusted a special role with regard to child refugees and asylum seekers
to implement the Convention on the Rights of the child without discrimination.
Iranian Refugees' Alliance recommends an immediate training program on relevant
provisions of the Convention for UNHCR officials who conduct the interviews
and determine claims of non-European asylum seekers. It calls on the UNHCR
to re-evaluate refugee claims of family asylum seekers whose claims have
been rejected previously and to include the views and experiences of children
in the redetermination of the claims. Whenever necessary, children should
be invited to talk about their fears of return to their homeland. Appropriate
guidelines for interviewing children should be followed and information
on general treatment of children in the country of their origin should be
compiled. No child asylum seeker should be refused assistance based on his
or her legal status or that of his or her parents'.
Iranian Refugees' Alliance is preparing a brief to the UN Committee on the
Rights of the Child to examine the treatment of Iranian refugee children
in Turkey by the government and the UNHCR. The UN Committee on the Rights
of the Child oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Rights
of the Child and accepts reports from non-governmental organizations as
well as governments. We invite interested organizations and individuals
to join in this effort by sharing information on experiences of children
before and after leaving Iran, documents on the laws and regulations concerning
children in Iran, and related research and analysis.