Campaign for Urgent Improvements

(from Iranian Refugees At Risk Spring 95)

Iranian Refugees' Alliance (IRA) intends to campaign both the UNHCR and the Turkish Government to adopt and implement international standards for treatment of asylum seekers, including fair refugee status determination procedures. Following the publication of a document on the practices of the UNHCR and the Turkish Government regarding Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey, IRA has written to High Commissioner Sadako Ogata and the Turkish authorities to urge for essential and urgent improvements. IRA has also written to several US Senators and Representatives. The issues were publicized by contacting more than 100 national and international organizations and individuals, major media, as well as posting information on several electronic newsgroups.

In this issue we bring to your attention correspondence with the High Commissioner and Turkey's ambassador in the US., and a summary of other efforts. We invite all who are concerned to get on board.

Letter to High Commissioner:

May 24, 1995
Mrs. Sadako Ogata
Office of the UNHCR- Geneva, Switzerland

Dear Mrs. Sadako Ogata:

I am writing to you on behalf of Iranian Refugees' Alliance, a non-profit organization in the US assisting and advocating on behalf of Iranian asylum seekers in first asylum countries. The enclosed document is a detailed report on the issue of legal protection of Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey, which in our assessment is critically undermined. We hope that by presenting this document we can relate to you our deep concern about the present situation of Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey. We will, of course, be very interested to receive your comments on the issues raised in this report. Hereby we would like to reinstate our urgent requests.

Based on the findings of the report regarding the procedure used by the Turkey Branch of the UNHCR to determine refugee applications of Iranians, we ask that UNHCR Headquarters take immediate action to remedy the existing shortcomings and flaws in this procedure. We call for the incorporation of recommendations made in the report. Due to undeniable risk of forcible return to appellants whose cases are currently closed by the Branch Office, we request that these cases be reopened immediately and redetermined under internationally recognized fairness safeguards. We ask that consideration be given that these cases be redetermined by the Headquarters.

We further urge the UNHCR Headquarters to take up the issue of protection of Iranian asylum seekers with the Turkish authorities as a matter of urgency. We ask that UNHCR discuss vigorously with the authorities appropriate measures for establishing a lawful and fair refugee determination procedure. More than twenty forcible returns of asylum seekers whose asylum cases were rejected under the new refugee processing system are reported to have taken place in late April and early May 1995. We have confirmed information on ten cases, five of whom were promptly apprehended and imprisoned by Iranian authorities. In light of these alarming forced returns, we urge that all deportations be ceased until fairness safeguards are demonstrably incorporated into the new Turkish refugee processing system and the Government reaffirms its obligation to the principle of non-return.

We thank you for your consideration of these important, and urgent concerns and look forward to your support.

Deljou Abadi, Coordinator
Back To Campaign for Urgent Improvements

Letter to Turkey's ambassador to the US:

June 2, 1995
The Hon. Nuzhet Kandemir
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey

Dear Ambassador Kandemir:

Iranian Refugees' Alliance is gravely concerned about the situation of Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey. Turkey's recent legislation for granting non-European's temporary asylum and escalating forcible returns by your government have critically undermined the protection of Iranian asylum seekers.

Iranian Refugees' Alliance believes that Turkey's granting of temporary asylum to non-European refugees should be governed by the 1951 UN Convention and 1951 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees as well as customary international law. Given that your government has declared itself the authority to determine eligibility of Non-European asylum seekers for temporary asylum, the procedure used for this determination is now pivotal to Turkey's compliance with international laws.

Our assessment of your government's new system for determining asylum claims of non-Europeans is stated in the enclosed document. We believe that this system conflicts every basic requirement for fairness and legitimacy of such determinations. This conclusion is based on grave deficiencies and flaws with respect to the following key elements:

  1. legal counseling.
  2. appeal rights.
  3. adequate and fair interview procedures.
  4. competent, impartial and properly identified examining authorities.
  5. humane and secure conditions of stay.
  6. co-operation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner
    for Refugees (UNHCR) and due regard for the Office's mandate.

Apart from the specific flaws relating to your government's new determination system, we are extremely concerned at evidence which indicate that the procedure is being used as a measure to return asylum seekers regardless of their fear of persecution and to deter others from seeking protection in Turkey. It is, therefore, hard not to believe that Turkey's security protocols with Iran aim to obstruct Iranian refugees from seeking asylum in Turkey and lead to their forcible return.

In the past months, Iranian Refugees' Alliance has received disturbing information on dozens of deportations. At least 13 asylum seekers and their families whose arrival postdates November 30, 1994, have been deported from the town of Hakkari and twenty more are threatened by deportation. Those deported have reportedly fled political and religious persecution. We have confirmed information that at least five of them have been apprehended and imprisoned in Urumieh upon return. Similar deportations have been reported to have taken place in the town of Van. Asylum seekers in Nigde, Corum, and Kayseri, who have arrived prior to the noted date, have also been served deportation orders.

These returns are evidence that Turkey is guilty of a breach of the duty of non-return which enjoins any action--including a state's failure to guarantee fairness in its refugee determination system--that returns people to territories where their lives or freedom may be threatened. Although Turkey insists on not lifting the geographic limitation to the UN Refugee Convention, it remains obligated by international law not to repatriate persons of any nationality whose lives or freedom may be threatened upon return.

Iranian Refugees' Alliance urges the Turkish government to cease the deportations. We ask that your government reaffirms its obligation to the principle of non-return. We call on your government to fully acknowledge and implement its obligations under international refugee laws when granting non-Europeans temporary asylum, including the duty to fairly apply UNHCR guidelines in determination of asylum claims. UNHCR should be invited to monitor compliance with these standards and it should not be restricted, in any manner whatsoever, to protect refugees under its mandate.

Deljou Abadi, Coordinator
cc: The Hon. Richard C. Barkely, U.S. Embassy- Ankara, Turkey
UNHCR - Ankara, Turkey
Back To Campaign for Urgent Improvements

Other efforts of the campaign:

IRA has also written to more than 100 human rights and refugee concerned organizations and scholars in the US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and United Kingdom to draw their attention and ask for support. We have so far written to US Senators and Representatives in Maine, Vermont, New York, and California as well as to the US State Department-Division for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. We have contacted the press and have posted information on several electronic newsgroups with an interest in refugee, immigration, and human rights. These newsgroups are accessible by a wide range of people all over the world.

In the next issue, we will bring to your attention developments of the campaign. We invite all readers of this issue to get on board now and become part of this campaign.

Suggested Action:

How to contact the officials:
High Commissioner Sadako Ogata
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Geneva Headquarters
Case Postale 2500, CH-1211 Geneva 2 Depot  Switzerland
phone: (41-22) 739-8111  Fax: (41-22) 731-9546

Representative : Barry Rigby
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Branch Office in Turkey
17 Abidin Daver Sokak Cankaya Ankara 06680 Turkey
phone: (90 312) 439 66 15-18 Fax: (90 312)438 2702

Representative: Rene van Rooyen
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Branch Office for the United States
1718 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009
phone: (202)296-5191   Fax: (202) 296 5660

Mr. Necdet Menzir
Minister of the Interior
Icisleri Bakanligi
Bakanliklar  06644 Ankara  TURKEY
(fax: 011-90-312-418-1795)

Ambassador Nuzhet Kandemir
Embassy of the Republic of Turkey
1714 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
(fax: 202-659-0744)

Contact us for a copy of addresses and fax numbers of  US Senators and Representatives.
Please see page 9 for financial contributions to the campaign.