For the last seven years, I have been working with Inter-Church Committee for Refugees (ICCR), mainly as the representative of the Jesuit Refugee Service-Canada. Along with Tom Clark (ICCR Coordinator) and Anne Woolger (another member of ICCR and a staunch supporter of Kurdish and Iranian refugees in Turkey), I shared the plight of non-European refugees with ICCR members. ICCR started its advocacy for this group of refugees more than three years ago. We have been enjoying ongoing cooperation from the Iranian Refugees' Alliance throughout these years.
The Inter-Church Committee for Refugees (ICCR) is a coalition of ten national Canadian church bodies whose mandate includes making joint submissions on refugee protection situations.
In 1994, Anne Woolger travelled to Turkey and investigated the lack of due process for non-European refugees in this country. A year later, Ann and Tom Clark travelled to Geneva on behalf of the ICCR. They raised the issue at the annual meeting of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They also presented first hand information on Turkey's unlawful deportations as well as several refugee claims which had been unfairly rejected by the UNHCR in Turkey. This information was obtained with the help of Iranian Refugees' Alliance in New York.
In early 1996, as a proactive approach to the upcoming Review Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), ICCR sent two written submissions to OSCE. One was with respect to the lack of due process for some non-citizens in deportation by Canada. The other one (the full text is given below) was about the discriminatory policies and practices against asylum seekers in Turkey. On the basis of these submissions, both I and Tom Clark were invited to Vienna to attend the OSCE meeting and add our verbal concerns to the written submissions in the "Human Dimension" workshop. We were also able to attend interesting sessions on the "Economic Dimension."
I started my journey in November 4, 1996. I quickly got oriented, learned the routine and met other countries' NGOs before speaking Friday November 8, 1996 at the session on "Tolerance and Non-Discrimination'' which included treatment of foreigners. Tom joined me on November 8th to speak Wednesday 13th on "Rule or Law" which included right to a fair trial.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, is the present form of a process of consultation and negotiation that began with a Final Act signed in Helsinki in 1975 by governments of Europe and North America. It is the process which ended the Cold War. The process is important for its combination of human rights (referred to as the "human dimension") and security concerns, and its focus on the political accountability of its 55 members. Yet the level of human rights agreement to be complied with is quite narrowly focused. For example, States can be held accountable for large visa fees rather than "gross and systematic human rights violations".
There is a permanent council of representatives which meets weekly in Vienna. There is an Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, in Warsaw. Every two years there is a "Review Meeting" at which progress on the last undertakings is measured and new undertakings are contemplated. An NGO like ICCR can present their assessment of the OSCE process and can make recommendations to the body of national delegations for their further development of the OSCE principles, standards and mechanisms.
The format for a Human Dimension Working Group session begins with government statements. These can either report actions taken or complaints about incidents in another country. In general, the US spoke (seemingly for North America) and Ireland spoke for the European Union in a rather grand principled way. Other governments tended to report actions, although Switzerland took a stand to push ratifying the Convention against Torture. Some Nordics gave an excellent statement on the meaning of the Rule of Law which is helpful for NGO purposes. Governments could use a right of reply if they had been referred to by another government or by an NGO. Then international organizations spoke, routinely the Council of Europe. (Under the Economic Dimension Working Group, the World Bank UNDP, OECD also spoke.)
NGOs had 5 to 7 minutes to speak. This was not, of course, adequate to cover ICCR concerns on the plight of non-European asylum-seekers in Turkey. I spent hours to summarize ICCR's submission without sacrificing the content. I practiced many times in my Hotel in downtown Vienna. In the night of November 7, 1996, I received a fax from my colleague Anne Woolger about a border event in Turkey. She had in turn received information from a Dutch colleague involved with an NGO working in Sulaimaniya, Iraq, that on October 26, 1996, 28 Iraqi Kurds were massacred by Turkish guards as they tried to cross the Iranian Turkish border unofficially. They were first bombed, then some were shot from a distance and at least 3 were knifed. I included this information in my report and added that these tragedies were happening regularly. At the meeting, I spoke for 8 minutes and covered almost everything. Fortunately, the Chair did not interrupt me. I started with urging OSCE members to ban geographical limitations on the application of the Refugee Convention and Protocol imposed nowadays by two countries in Europe - Turkey and Hungry. I ended my statement with the same request.
The Chair of Turkish delegation refused to budge. While admitting about the existence of geographical limitation on the application of the Geneva Convention, he emphasized that this limitation will continue to exist. He made no comment whatsoever on the redundancy of the exit visas, but assured members about flexibility on 5-day time limitation on filing refugee claims. He then made reference to the lack of burden sharing for large numbers of refugees and mentioned about the reluctance of European countries to respond to emergency situations.
Both ICCR's sediments were well received by NGOs and UN bodies. In my opinion, ICCR laid the foundation for further advocacy.
Inter-Church Committee for Refugees