Refugee Voices

(from Iranian Refugees At Risk Spring 95)

Many Iranian refugees in Turkey did not celebrate Norooz, the Iranian new year (March 21, 1995), because of extreme anxiety, hopelessness and poverty. Many could not afford a basic meal, let alone a celebration, because of the skyrocketing inflation rate in Turkey. Their already tenuous existence was further threatened by the new refugee laws set by the Turkish government. All new arrivals are required to report to the Turkish police of a border town for an interview in order to determine if they are genuine” refugees. In late April and early May, more than twenty deportations have been reported. Forcible returns have taken place after cursory interviews with the police and without a written notification of the asylum seekers' rejection. This has forced many others into hiding. In recent months we and some other friends who have been in contact with refugees through IRA's Support Fund have received reports on their horrifying situation. The following are excerpts from a few:

". . . It is now more than four months that I have resided in Turkey and it is more than two months past my interview with UNHCR. Unfortunately this organization has not responded to my claim yet and has created a difficult situation for me. The only reply from them is that a determination of your case from the police is awaiting. It is not clear how long this uncertainty will continue. If this situation lasts I think I am invited to a gradual death. Dear friend, when I told you earlier about my hand-to-mouth existence and malnutrition, it is because my daily diet consists of the following: half an akmak (a common Turkish bread) and one egg for breakfast, which I eat at noon, and two potatoes for dinner, which I eat at 8:00 p.m. This is my meal for 24 hours. I have actually eliminated one meal and it is now months that I have survived with this low quality nutrition. I have endured all this hoping that I will hear from UNHCR and will get out of this misery. But I am cynical about receiving such reply. Recently UNHCR and the Turkish police have been collaborators with each other and have announced that whatever we had reported to UNHCR we have to report to the police as well. This is while we have already informed the UNHCR of our situation. As Kurds, the Turkish police would look at us maliciously. So far, nobody has dared to declare that s/he is Kurdish to the Turkish police . . . "
" . . . I am married and have a spouse and three children. I am a refugee in the town of . . . and reported to UNHCR at the end of August 1994. But, to this date, I have received no reply from this organization. The so-called 7/15 laws apply to me. As of this date two organs of the Turkish Ministry and the UNHCR are designated to determine if a person is a refugee. My spouse and children arrived in Turkey early November. Because of destitution and lack of financial resources I was not able to take them to the UNHCR office and report their arrival. I was not aware that new rules are in the making either. Because of this delay in reporting to UNHCR the laws of Nov. 30 also applied to them and they are required to go to one of the border towns. I have not agreed and we now live in hiding in . . . Each day is torturous for us. Every minute it is possible that the police raid our house and do whatever they feel like or are capable of doing. Every minute it is possible that my family and I be deported . . . "
" . . . I am sure that you have already heard about the aggressive measures of the Turkish Interior Ministry to deport some of the refugees to Iran. Despite worldwide efforts to support these people, UNHCR with the most inhumane approach refused support in any manner. With its carelessness it showed utmost impudence. These events have had an adverse effect on the morale of refugees. They now see at hand how UNHCR is retreating step by step and leaving them alone, with no protection and weaker than ever, against the new anti-refugee regulations of the Turkish government. One can predict the future quite accurately. There will be more devastating traumas to face. Considering the recent events, I have to share with you a friendly confession. Even though I visit my friends often in order to create solidarity and coordination amongst us and try to boost their morale, when I am alone with myself I feel that my own morale is shaky and that I have taken the blow too. Any person in these difficult circumstances of Turkey, lose strength and cannot act normally. If until now I truly believed that I would obtain refugee status from the UNHCR, now with the current situation I see darkness at the end of the tunnel. The UNHCR officials have promised me on several occasions that my case will be re-opened but they have not taken any constructive action yet. After my last reopening letter to UNHCR, I have written three more letters to them and considering my mental anguish, my letters have become more critical and aggressive . . . "