Refugee Voices

(from Iranian Refugees At Risk Winter 95)

Refugee Voices intends to reflect the voices, problems, needs and aspirations of refugees. For this issue, we thank S.B., A.M., Shohreh, Gholam and Aftab who shared their correspondence with us (the names of refugees are omitted as a matter of protection).

Dear friends Shohreh and Gholam:

Allow me to thank you cordially for your humanitarian support before getting into details of the numerous painful and exhausting predicaments of our lives in exile. My dear friends, in the time when life in exile and lack of emotional, financial and political security have become more and more unbearable and bitterly disappointing, your sincere support and encouragement gives us hope.

Dear friends, refugee families like myself who have survived the awful conditions in Turkey are indebted to the devotion of dedicated people like you. Otherwise, having no one in any part of the world to come to our rescue, we would break under various political, economical, and psychological pressures in Turkey.

Dear friends, I continue to live a desperate life with my wife and children in damp and dilapidated dwellings known as "Gecekondu" shanties. Our most terrifying nightmare is to be deported back to Iran. Our nights and days seem unbearably long and distressing as we live every moment in fear. In addition to the growing financial pressures and the uncertainty of our future, my family and I have to put up with the insulting and often hateful attitudes of the Turkish Police.

Our so called "home", "Gecekondu", is not more than a shack in the middle of the rubbles of a dirty valley. This "home" lacks the basics. We have no running water, naturally no baths, no heat, and only an illegal electricity line which goes off and on as it pleases. It goes without saying that unemployment and deep stagnation in Turkey have put all refugees under awful financial conditions. We are deprived from receiving the small but crucial UN financial contribution, ever since they rejected our plea for asylum. Because of unfair practices of the UNHCR, we have been denied the right to explain our case and our reasons for escaping. We are not told about the shortcomings of our case, and no one in UNHCR offered a guidance to refugees like myself. All of these have made our problems harder and more painful. Meanwhile, the Turkish and Iranian governments recent security contracts for exchange of dissidents have put the lives of more refugees in danger.

Dear friends, why should I be paying for the "crime" I have not committed? What is the crime of my children that they have to suffer day after day and night after night without food, health care, or peace of mind? We were once condemned by the Islamic Republic solely because we believe in justice and freedom. And now, I can't comprehend why the humanitarian organizations, such as UN, turns their back to people like myself and other refugees to hear our desperate plea. Yet I have hopes. Surely, there are people who sympathize with us. You are among those people, to hear from you and your encouraging words is to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Dear friends, I have been persecuted and condemned by the Islamic government of Iran because of my beliefs in humane ideas. No matter how difficult life becomes, I can't forget what the Islamic regime has done to me and other freedom fighters and I will continue my opposition and fight against this freedom killing regime. Undoubtedly, there is no way for us to go back home, and I will continue my struggle to free ourselves from this predicament.

My good friends, my painful memories are far too long and distressing to write to you. I won't trouble you more than this. Wherever you are, I wish you a joyful and rewarding life. With hopes to freedom and to meet you,

S.B. Nov. 1994.

Dear Supporter,

First of all, I want to thank you and our other supporters for your enormous efforts to help us. You are doing a great job. We received you contributions, for which I must thank you again.

Dear Aftab, After eight months of uncertainty, distress, and several interviews with the UNHCR, my case has been declared closed without any specified reasons. I am keeping you updated in hope that you will do your utmost to salvage us from this hellish situation. Your moral support can help me to pursue our right to have the UNHCR reexamine our case, recognize us as political refugees, and transfer us to a more secure country.

You have been informed that I have been overtly politically active since 1983 and that I have spent 7 years in various prisons where I have been both harassed and tortured. When I was finally able to contact an international human rights resource center, I was very excited. I expected recognition of my urgent need for protection and support as a political refugee who had just escaped my country because my life was in extreme danger.

Unfortunately, since my arrival, I again found myself imprisoned, however this time in the hands of the UNHCR. I was not offered the support and help I deserved. Instead of having a lawyer to stand up for my human rights, I was interrogated. The way the interrogations were carried out deprived me of my right to provide sufficient information. Distrust pervaded the atmosphere and the questions were posed to me as if I am and always have been a criminal. An institution which is required to operate based on the rules and regulations of the Geneva Convention, which was supposed to review all of the detals of my political activity and the danger to my life in a supportive and unbiased atmosphere, failed to even provide me with a translator who would communicate my responses in an accurate and unbiased manner. Finally my case was closed with only the signatures of the translator and lawyer (interrogator) on the transcripts, as I denied even the right to review, affirm and sign my own statements. They even places us under time pressure by frequently demanding that we hurry up and stop wasting their time. At least the interrogators of the Islamic Republic put the time into listening to a prisoner, with the intent to break them; the UNHCR wont even give us time!

Any one of these practices of the UNHCR is a legal violation which can disqualify their assessment of my case. Unfortunately, the asylum-seeker doesn't even have the right to contest the UNHCR. Moreover, the conditions for asylum-seekers with closed cases, like myself, is made even worse by the life threatening pressure placed on us by the Turkish government. Instead of opposing and preventing the anti-refugee policy of the Turkish government, in order to flatter the police the UNHCR has been putting pressure on asylum-seekers to inform the police about their cases . This is despite the fact that it is common knowledge that the Turkish government persecutes and pursues its own leftist activists and Kurdish activist for an autonomous Kurdistan, that, additionally, the government is opposed to democratic movements, that the Turkish government has signed contracts with the Iranian government to exchange political refugees and dissidents, and that since 7/15/94 the organizations supporting refugees, in this case the UNHCR, are required to inform the police by FAX of the details of the refugees cases, including the names of the leftist and kurdish organizations with which they have been active. Kurds are not even able to admit their ethnic identity, as it would be too dangerous for them.

We must report to the police every day, and travel to the UNHCR or to any embassy requires official permission from the police. We are not permitted to work. Based on the temporary residency permit that has been issued to us, we have been denied the right to work or travel, and do not have any basic rights as a human being.

Every day we have been waiting for a letter which will deliver us from this hell. Every day we haveen waiting to hear from the UNHCR or the embassies of countries which accept asylum-seekers. After 8 long months we received a rejection letter from the UNHCR stating that they do not recognize us as refugees. This letter did not provide any explantions for this judgement.

All of this is taking place while my 7 year old child has been complaing about chronic headaches and nose-bleeds. Even at this yo ung age he is continually asking me if I have received the letter of confirmation so that he can buy some toys, be freed from here so that he can be cured, and go to school instead of just watching from his window as other children pass by on their way to school. Many times it has happened that when I take my choldren to the police headquarters to sign in, we go out and they stop by a toy store. In the end they always content themselves with the hope that we will receive our confirmation letter, saying to me "Don't worry Dad, we'll get a toy when we hear from the UN".

My oldest child has been under such acute psychological stress that tonight he suddenly burst into tears. When I asked him why he cried, he said that he had fallen into a nightmarish daydream that I had gotten into an accident and my leg had been severed. He couldn't stop sobbing and the rest of us could no longer eat.

Dear Sir, I didn`t want to upset you, however I write this upon your own request to share our distress. In the end, I wish you would contact legal resources on our behalf. Thank you very much for your kindness and generosity. Good luck.

With hopes for freedom,