|Protection of Iranian Asylum Seekers:|
Developments Since May 1995
|Memorandum to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with respect to the critical situation of Irnaina asylum seekers in Turkey whose Asylum cases are presently rejected|
|Reply from the UNHCR Branch Office in Turkey|
|NGO Expresses concern about Iranian Asylum Seekers|
On November 30, 1994, the Turkish Government officially declared itself having authority to determine refugee eligibility of non-European asylum seekers. Temporary stay permits are granted to only those who are determined to be genuine r efugees. Previously, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was the sole decision maker on refugee claims and Turkish authorities generally permitted asylum seekers to stay in Turkey as long as cases were under consideration. According to the new regulations, UNHCR would consider resettling refugees whose status have been approved by the Turkish authorities and are also determined as worthy cases by the agency. UNHCR would also consult with the Turkish authorities on behalf of cases considered worthy but have been rejected by Turkish authorities.
In May 1995, Iranian Refugees' Alliance issued a report examining the refugee status determination procedures of both the UNHCR and the Turkish Government. It concluded that both agencies have failed to satisfy relevant international standards. The report identified serious shortcomings in the UNHCR refugee determination procedure rendering the procedure unreliable for identifying those who are in need of protection. The report further concluded that the Turkish Government refugee processing system now in effect conflicts with basic requirements for fairness and legitimacy of the refugee status determination procedure. Iranian Refugees' Alliance called on the UNHCR and the Turkish Government for urgent improvements. To date our organization has not received a response from either the UNHCR or the Turkish Government to the recommendations made in its May 1995 report.
However, according to reports, in July 1995 some steps have been taken by both the UNHCR and the Turkish Government to modify aspects of the new refugee processing system. It is reported that an opportunity to submit an appeal request to the Ministry of Interior before deportation of the asylum seeker is introduced to the Government's refugee processing system. It has also been reported that the proportion of asylum seekers recognized by the UNHCR Office as refugees has been significantly higher than it was in previous months.
Iranian Refugees' Alliance welcomes the opportunity for an appeal provided by the Turkish Government. However, it notes that in its present state, the opportunity lacks the necessary minimum requirements for being effective and fair. Neither the pamphlet asylum seekers receive on arrival nor the proclamation and acknowledgment document issued to those whose cases are rejected, notifies asylum seekers that they can appeal. In practice, appeals have only included a written request by the asylum seeker to the Interior Ministry for a review, absent the right to representation, to be informed of the basis of the initial rejection and to be heard by the review authorities. Furthermore, insofar as other minimum safeguards--i.e., legal counseling, fair and adequate hearings, impartial and identified decision makers,etc.--are concerned, Iranian Refugees' Alliance maintains its concern that the Turkish Government's refugee determination procedure is generally unfair.
While Iranian Refugees' Alliance acclaims UNHCR's recent activities to protect more refugees, the organization is still concerned because those fairness safeguards which have been lacking in the agency's determination procedure necessary to ensure correct and just decisions are not so far addressed by the Office. As such, the procedure is still not reliable to identify all those who are in need of protection. As far as previously rejected cases are concerned, the fairness and accuracy of such decisions are still open to question.
Iranian Refugees' Alliance emphasizes stringent application of procedural safeguards in the determination process of the UNHCR because it's outcome is the cornerstone of the Office's protection function. Only those who are recognized as refugees are protected by the Office against deportation and are assisted for resettlement. As explicitly agreed with the Turkish authorities rejected asylum seekers are forcibly returned to their country of origin. These returns take place without the rejected asylum seeker having had access to an opportunity to effectively appeal the negative decision or the deportation order to either the UNHCR or the Turkish courts.
In the summer of 1995, dozens of deportation orders were issued by the Turkish Government to asylum seekers whose cases have been closed by the UNHCR. Facing imminent deportation, a sit-in was staged in August 1995 by more than 150 such asylum seekers in the office of the Turkish United Socialist Party.
In view of the UNHCR Office's continued inaction to the critical situation of the concerned asylum seekers, Iranian Refugees' Alliance issued a Memorandum (see page 1) to the UNHCR. It reiterated the request for the agency's comments on its May 1995 report on the determination procedure and raised issues related to criteria against which refugee claims are being assessed and issues concerning human rights laws. In response to the Memorandum, the Branch Office sent an Information Notice (see page 6), further confirming concerns expressed in the Memorandum. At this time Iranian Refugees' Alliance is hopeful to commence consultation with the UNHCR Headquarters with the aim that the Headquarters' involvement will result in a constructive and just resolution.
August 25 , 1995