Saturday, February 13, 2010

Iranian Refugees Face Problems in Turkey

Accusations have arisen in recent months that Iranian refugees seeking asylum in Turkey have been threatened by Iranian security agents, and that these security agents have in some cases worked with local Turkish police in a campaign of intimidation. Turkey is a popular destination for refugees thanks to its long border with Iran and its lax visa laws, though under Turkish law only Europeans can claim asylum status. It is the responsibility of the UN Refugee Agency(UNHCR), whose Turkey office is in Ankara, to re-locate asylum seekers. From the Guardian's Robert Tait, who is based in Istanbul:
The intimidation campaign comes after a senior revolutionary guard commander, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, told the hardline Keyhan newspaper that foreign-based supporters of the opposition green movement would be targeted as "extensions of a soft coup".

"So far, a large number of the infantry of the enemy has been identified," he said. "The Islamic Republic will not allow the extensions of a soft coup to act on further sedition and if necessary, the government will make them face serious challenges."

Iranians do not need visa requirement to enter Turkey, meaning it would be easy in theory for Iran's state agents to operate clandestinely within Turkey's borders. Western diplomats have privately voiced concerns about the security of Iranian refugees from the election upheaval.

However, Metin Corabatir, external affairs officer with the UN's high commission for refugees, insisted they were safe in Turkey. "The Iranians are under the protection of the Turkish state and Turkey is a secure country," he said. "If there are some high profile people, extra measures are taken to ensure they are protected. But we know of no incident and there is no threat to these people."
Yet, Tait has interviewed numerous refugees whose stories belie Corabitir's assurances. In one case, two men beat a refugee on the streets of Kayseri and stole her mobile phone. Maryam Sabri, the victim, claims she was raped by Iranian authorities and fears the attack was carried out by Iranian authorities keen to prevent her from telling her story. In Sabri's case, the UNHCR in Turkey took the word of the police, who have concluded the attack to be a simple street crime. Though a local NGO, the Association for Solidarity with Asylum Seekers and Migrants (Asam), has agreed with the police, United States authorities are reported to have sped up Sabri's application. Tait documents other cases of rape victims who have been intimidated, as well as reported that some victims have alleged Turkish police have asked them to keep quiet about the rape and torture from which they purport to be escaping, in some cases even threatening to hand refugees over to the Iranian authorities. The UNHCR continues to maintain that the victims are safe in Turkey.

And, another aspect of discrimination against Iranian refugees that has come to my attention involves gay Iranian asylum seekers who the Turkish government has re-located in the conservative central Anatolian town of Kayseri, no doubt a bizarre choice. According to Hossein Alizadeh,
While in Turkey, the authorities insist that refugees can only stay in one of 30 designated small cities. These locations are assigned based on the asylum seeker’s nationality, gender, age, and reason for seeking asylum.

. . . .

In a society where job opportunities are rare and financial resources are limited, refugees usually encounter public hostility. But for LGBT refugees, the picture is particularly frightening. Gay people, especially in more conservative areas, are perceived to be moral degenerates who will destroy social cohesion and promote prostitution. In this context, many view gay refugees as the “bottom of the barrel”—the public (and unfortunately sometimes the authorities) see them as parasites who not only suck blood from their host’s body, but who will fatally damage this body if left unchecked. For this reason, some “concerned citizens,” and occasionally local law enforcement agents, take it upon themselves to continuously intimidate gay refugees to make their lives as unpleasant as possible.

For LGBT refugees in Turkey, this is the daily struggle they must contend with: away from family and friends, with painful memories of persecution and harassment in their native country, they are now unwelcome strangers, living in extreme poverty, isolation and hopelessness, waiting for what feels like an eternity to find out if any country on the planet will give them a chance to live like human beings.
Alizadeh also documents difficulties all refugees in Turkey face, and gives their total number at 18,000 (as of June 2009), and I assume this number includes only those who have filed applications with the UNHCR. I have no idea how many are Iranians, and the number has no doubt increased following this summer's unrest. See also Alizadeh's June 11, 2009 post and this story from Voice of America.

1 comment:

Paul Canning said...

See also Oram http://www.oraminternational.org who have a report on the situation of LGBT Iranian refugees in Turkey