November 6, 2003
Fifty-three detained Iranian refugees may face imminent deportation by Turkish authorities
Iranian Refugees’ Alliance is gravely concerned for the safety of fifty-three Iranian refugees who have been detained since their arrests on Saturday, November 1, 2003 by the police in the border town of Van in southeast Turkey. Latest reports indicate that some or all of them may face imminent deportation. The detainees are from the group of over thousand Iranian Kurds who have been residing in Northern-Iraq before moving to Turkey in 2001 and have since been living in dire and precarious circumstances.
The fifty-three were arrested while participating in a peaceful demonstration in Van along with several hundred others to protest the policies of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the international agency mandated to protect refugees. Demonstrations began early last week after one refugee and his wife sewed their lips and staged a sit-in in front of the local UNHCR office. The couple who were repeatedly arrested and removed by the police, reportedly due to complaints to the police by the local UNHCR office, persistently returned to the same location and continued their protest. As many as one-hundred-and-fifty refugees held a day-long demonstration in front of the local UNHCR office on Friday demanding humanitarian and resettlement assistance from the UNHCR as well as transparency in communication and intervention with the government to regularize their legal status. While the police did not intervene with the demonstration on Friday, as shown in news reports on Television the nearly four hundred refugees who gathered again on Saturday were violently attacked by several dozen policemen armed with batons, rifles and transparent shields.
Since their arrest and detention in Van Police Headquarters, the fifty-three have been refused contact with the outside. Friends and family members trying to stand vigil near the Police Headquarters have seen the detainees being taken to Court on Monday, November 3rd. Some of the detainees have been communicating with the outside by sending short phone messages, initially saying that the judge had ordered their release, but later conveying grave fears that deportation proceedings have been initiated for them.
According to UNHCR central office in Ankara, who also confirms that the fifty-three refugees were brought before the Court on Monday, the Public Prosecutor has not clarified whether charges are pending against them or will be brought. The agency also states that the police are reportedly holding the group pending instructions from the Ministry of the Interior at the central level.
The right to freedom of expression and assembly and to protesting peacefully is part of the international human rights law guaranteed to non-citizens. Furthermore, the deportation of any ex-Northern-Iraq refugee from Turkey to Iran or Iraq would violate the most fundamental principle of international refugee law, the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the forcible return of a person to a country where there is a risk of grave human rights abuses.
Iranian Refugees’ Alliance has extensively documented the precarious situation of ex-Northern-Iraq refugees in Turkey and criticized UNHCR’s and the Turkish government’s inconsistent and peremptory policies towards the group. [see Off the radar screen: UNHCR/Government neglect imperils thousands of Iranian Kurdish refugees in Turkey and Northern Iraq, April 2003, http://www.irainc.org/text/pub/NIreport2.pdf]. On August 30, 2003 Turkish police arbitrarily arrested twenty ex-Northern-Iraq refugees and forcibly returned them to Iran in a matter of hours. [see September 4, 2003, Press Release, Twenty Iranian Kurds deported to Iran by Turkish police return after long ordeal, refugees fear more deportations, http://www.irainc.org/text/pub/PR0903.html]
We call on the human rights community to promptly:
1- express your concerns to the Turkish government in regard to the fifty-three who may be at risk of imminent deportation and demand their immediate release;
2- express your concerns to UNHCR and the Turkish government in regard to the longstanding precarious situation of the whole group numbering over a thousand using the findings and recommendations of Iranian Refugees’ Alliance’s April 2003 report noted above.
Please send your letters to:
Minister of the Interior
Mr. Abdulkadir Aksu
Ministry of Interior
06644 Ankara, TURKEY
Ms. Gesche Karrenbrock
UNHCR – Turkey
12 Cadessi 212 Sokak No: 3
Sancak Mah. 06550 Ankara, Turkey
And please inform us at the address below of your actions and any responses you receive.
Iranian Refugees' Alliance, is a non-profit organization in the US assisting and advocating on behalf of Iranian asylum seekers and refugees nationally and internationally.
Iranian Refugees' Alliance, Inc.
New York, NY 10276-0316 USA