July 20, 2005
Press Release from Iranian Refugees’ Alliance, Inc.
Refugees take Turkey to International Court
On June 30, 2005 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg declared admissible the application of D. and Others v. Turkey (No. 24245/03). The applicants, D., his wife, S., and their daughter, P., are Iranian nationals seeking asylum in Turkey since 1999. They filed their application with the Court on August 4, 2003 after Turkish authorities served them a deportation order. The order was issued upon notification from the Ankara Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that their refugee application had been rejected and closed.
"We are pleased that at last one decision-making body is putting in the effort to examine this family’s claims diligently and transparently,” said Iranian Refugees’ Alliance’s director, Deljou Abadi, who is representing the applicants before the Court. “For the five long years that D., S., & P. have been anxiously waiting for their fate to be determined by UNHCR and Turkish authorities, they have only experienced ineptitude, rightlessness and secrecy.”
D. and S. are from Sunni Kurdish and Shi’ite Azeri families respectively. Having been arrested, detained and tortured previously by Iranian authorities for political reasons, D. fled to Turkey when the authorities again suspected him of resuming political activity. S. fled because she was imminently facing a cruel, inhuman, and in her case life-threatening, hadd sentence of 100 lashes. D. and S. were both sentenced to the hadd punishment by judicial authorities a few days after they were married by a Sunni clergy. The court declared their marriage vows null and convicted them of committing fornication because S’s father opposed the marriage and did not give his consent. D.’s sentence was administered subsequently. S.’s was temporarily postponed initially due to pregnancy and then nursing P. Despite medical evidence stating that lashing would put S.’s life at risk because of her poor health, judicial authorities insisted on the carrying out of the sentence. Both applicants have stacks of supporting documents to prove their claims.
Turkey has been a major temporary asylum country for Iranians in the last two decades. Until 1994, UNHCR was the sole decision-maker on Iranian’s asylum applications. As Turkey has maintained a “geographic limitation” in application of the UN 1951 Refugee Convention, not accepting non-Europeans as refugees, those who have been recognized as refugees have been resettled in third countries. UNHCR presently determines refugee applications in eighty countries. Although the agency advocates and provides comprehensive advice to governments on fair and effective systems, its own Refugee Status Determination system (RSD) lacks essential fairness standards, including disclosure of reasons for rejection, meaningful and independent appeal, and transparency.
The Turkish government issued asylum regulations in 1994 and its Ministry of Interior has since been purportedly examining asylum applications “in parallel” with the UNHCR. Turkish authorities assert on paper that while a decision is made by the Ministry of Interior on the applications, UNHCR’s “opinion” is also taken into consideration, the information contained in the applicant’s case is “mutually shared” and the status of the applicant is “collectively debated”. However, in practice, applications are still being examined and decided only by UNHCR. The agency periodically provides the government with a list of names of those whose cases have been rejected and closed and the government issues deportation orders for them. Hoping to join the European Union, the Turkish government has proposed a plan to reform its asylum system. A January 2005 National Action Plan for the Adoption of the EU Acquis in the Field of Asylum and Migration indicates that UNHCR continues to be involved in case assessments for a long time if not permanently.
In their application, D. & S. alleged that by expelling them to Iran, the Turkish government violates Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhumane treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights by exposing D. to political persecution, S. to the arbitrary, cruel, inhuman, degrading and life-threatening punishment of lashing, and by causing the permanent destruction of their family. They have also submitted that the government has violated Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the Convention by not providing them a fair asylum decision-making procedure nor an effective and accessible remedy to challenge their deportation order. They have also argued that Turkey is in violation of Article 14 (freedom from discrimination) of the Convention because it implements a discriminatory asylum system whereby non-Europeans asylum seekers’ applications are not properly investigated and they will be deported to their country of persecution if they fail to find resettlement in a third country.
In response, the government maintained that the applicants’ complaints should be declared inadmissible because they have not exhausted all domestic remedies; i.e the result of their objection to the deportation order is still pending and a subsequent suit of nullity in Ankara Administrative Court also is not exhausted. The government also claimed that applicants have not been able to present a “credible” asylum claim to the government and that “UNHCR has also reached the same decision as the government” without producing any evidence indicating that either of the two had actually examined the applicants’ claims.
The Court has declared all three of the applicants’ complaints admissible. Its next task is to assess the facts and arguments submitted by the parties as well as the question of exhaustion of domestic remedies. A judgment will follow on the applicants’ alleged violations.
“It’s horrifyingly tragic that when refugees’ protection is jeopardized by UNHCR’s RSD, there is no tribunal they can go to,” said Abadi. “But, as a sovereign state, the Turkish government too cannot keep claiming that it’s examining asylum applications and then simply wait idly for UNHCR’s rejection lists. Nor can the government, as a party to the ECHR, hide behind UNHCR’s decisions when it’s time for accountability.”
Iranian Refugees' Alliance, Inc., is a non-profit NGO in the U.S. assisting and advocating on behalf of Iranian asylum seekers and refugees nationally and internationally.
Iranian Refugees' Alliance, Inc.
New York, NY 10276-0316 USA