Iranian Refugees At-Risk
Iranian Refugees' Alliance Quarterly Newsletter
(Spring 95)

Putting it on Public Record:
The Critical Situation of Iranian Asylum Seekers in Turkey
CAMPAIGN for Urgent Improvements
Recommendations to the Office of the UNHCR to Guarantee Fairness in the Procedure for Refugee Status Determination
Refugee Voices

Putting it on Public Record:
The Critical Situation of Iranian Asylum Seekers in Turkey

(from Iranian Refugees At Risk Spring 95)

In May 1995, Iranian Refugees' Alliance (IRA) issued a document to put on public record the critically undermined protection of Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey. The 42 page report examines in detail the refugee status determination procedures of both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the agency mandated by the international community to protect refugees, and the Turkish Government. It concludes that both agencies have failed to satisfy relevant international standards and calls on the UNHCR and the Turkish Government for essential and urgent improvements.

The Turkish Government ratified the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, but has stipulated that it will apply the provisions of the Convention only to European refugees. Until July 15, 1994, in the absence of a national legislation, the Turkey Branch Office of the UNHCR was allowed to determine refugee eligibility of Iranian asylum seekers. After this date, the Turkish Government declared itself the authority for determination of all non-Europian asylum seekers in Turkey.

UNHCR's refugee status determination procedure has been the cornerstone of the agency's protection role in Turkey, since only those who have been recognized as refugees have been afforded protection against forcible return and eventual resettlement in another (third) country. Yet, this determination system has lacked regard for procedural safeguards essential to ensure full and fair determinations.

Currently, hundreds of asylum seekers whose arrival predates July 15, 1994 and whose applications were previously rejected by the UNHCR Branch Office in Turkey languish under harsh conditions and threat of imminent deportation. Many of them fled to Turkey several years ago. Labeled by the Office to be persons of no concern to the UNHCR--also called economic migrants and abusers--these persons have not been granted protection against forcible return. Even when other countries have granted them entry visas on humanitarian or refugee grounds, the UNHCR Branch Office has refused intervention with the Turkish authorities to prevent their deportation. Forcible returns continue to take place under desperate circumstances. Despite these terrible odds, asylum seekers refuse to repatriate voluntarily. They maintain that the UNHCR Branch Office owes them a fair and just opportunity to argue their cases. They are determined to achieve their rightful refugee status.