Deljou Abadi-Director
Iranian Refugees' Alliance, Inc.

+ 1-212-260-7460

April 24, 2003
Press Release


UN agency and Turkish government withhold resettlement and protection

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warehoused more than 5,000 Kurdish Iranian refugees indefinitely in Northern Iraq and Turkey within arm’s reach of their persecutors, Iranian Refugees’ Alliance said in a new report released today. UNHCR, the governments of Turkey and Iraq and the international community are failing to protect Iranian Kurdish refugees in these two countries, and should arrange their prompt resettlement to third countries. At the time of release, post-Saddam Iraq occupied by the US and UK forces is a scene of severe humanitarian crisis and great uncertainty. For the moment and even after regime change, third country resettlement for Iranian refugees is likely to remain their only reliable protection and durable solution.

"Iran-backed assassins are persecuting & killing members of this vulnerable group of refugees in Northern Iraq for years, but when the refugees flee to find safety in Turkey UNHCR denies them support and protection by calling them 'irregular movers' and strikes them from the public record," said Iranian Refugees’ Alliance’s director, Deljou Abadi. "UNHCR’s policies are not just harming these people but also isolating them from international concern."

In recent years, Iranian refugees have paid dearly for UNHCR’s so-called irregular mover policy. In June 1998 "irregular mover" Karim Tujali was arrested by Turkish police and handed over to the Iranian authorities. After imprisonment and torture Karim Tujali was executed by hanging on January 20, 2002.

The 50-page report, entitled Off the radar screen: UNHCR/Government neglect imperils thousands of Iranian Kurdish refugees in Turkey and Northern Iraq, documents the plight of four thousand people still trapped in Northern Iraq and more than one thousand refugees who have fled from Northern Iraq to Turkey since early 2001.

The report presents public documents and interviews with Iranian refugees to show how Iranian dissidents forced to shelter in the unstable Kurdish autonomous zone are exposed to the Iranian government’s escalating campaign of violence and intimidation. UNHCR concedes that these refugees’ only hope of permanent safety is resettlement, but it has suspended all resettlement since 1999.

Left with no alternative, some refugees have moved to Turkey, where they hope they will finally reach permanent safety via resettlement. They report that UNHCR/Northern Iraq staff encouraged them to move.

Unfortunately, now that they are in Turkey, the refugees’ position is still precarious. UNHCR/Turkey labels them as "irregular movers" (refugees who leave their country of first asylum where they have obtained "effective protection" for non-compelling reasons) and refuses to assist them. Since February 2002 the agency has also refused to register the refugees. They are therefore condemned to live in a shadow-world, struck from the public record. They receive no financial help or access to health-care, and are not permitted to work, though some do find employment on the illegal labor market. The Turkish authorities are at best uncooperative. At worst they detain the refugees and return them to Northern Iraq or even Iran.

UNHCR began to resettle Iranian refugees from Northern Iraq after the creation of the autonomous Kurdish zone in 1991, but it was always a grindingly slow and unpredictable process. UNHCR blames the Iraqi government for the 1999 resettlement suspension, saying that it refused to provide exit visas. Iraqi government officials reportedly blame UNHCR for the halt in resettlement.

UNHCR has not revealed the details behind the freeze, or explained why it has failed either to resolve the supposed exit-visa dispute, or get refugees out by other routes. However, the report shows that UNHCR/Turkey is not operating this policy in order to conserve precious and scarce opportunities for resettlement. According to its own statements, UNHCR fails to fill thousands of third government offers for resettlement places every year.

For brief periods (in 1995-1996 and in 2000) UNHCR completely reversed its policy. In 2000, it resettled 550 refugees in a few short months. "Right now, UNHCR is an immovable obstacle in the path of this group of people seeking safety, but for brief periods, when it decided to put refugees’ interests first, it showed how effective it could be in moving them swiftly out of harm’s way" said Abadi.

To read the report, Off the radar screen: UNHCR/Government neglect imperils thousands of Iranian Kurdish refugees in Turkey and Northern Iraq, please see


Iranian Refugees' Alliance, is a non-profit organization in the US assisting and advocating on behalf of Iranian asylum seekers nationally and internationally.


Iranian Refugees' Alliance, Inc.
Cooper Station
P.O.Box 316
New York, NY 10276-0316 USA
tel/fax: 212-260-7460