By Ahmad Rafat
The situation of Iranian refugees in Turkey is deteriorating, with Turkish authorities reportedly entering into secret agreements with the Islamic Republic to return some refugees to Iran.
This has raised concerns that those returned will face immediate arrest and torture. Among those at risk is Shilan Mirzai who was arrested and transferred to the camp in recent weeks. Mirzai, a human rights activist from Saqqez was arrested by Turkish security officers on Oct. 24, for “activity against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Mirzai was taken from his residence to a temporary refugee camp for deportation. Prior to her arrest, Mirzai had spoken with Kayhan London about the plight of Iranian refugees in Turkey, detailing threats received and alleging that even asylum seekers accepted by countries like the US, Canada, and Australia have been detained by Turkish immigration officials and given deportation papers.
Reports indicate that at least 200 Iranian refugees have been returned to Iran from Turkey this year. One such case is that of Shahriar Baratinia, a 27-year-old labor activist who was handed over to Iranian agents at the Bazargan border on Aug. 3. His family was unaware of his whereabouts for months until he was able to visit them in Tehran’s Evin prison on Nov. 2.
The situation has raised concerns about the safety and treatment of Iranian refugees in Turkey and the potential for further deportations. Shahram Baratinia, another labor activist who was arrested in Oct. 2021 for his union activities, was released on bail four months later and immediately fled to Turkey. However, his safety remains at risk as the Turkish Immigration Department reportedly intends to deport him and potentially more than a thousand other Iranian refugees back to the Islamic Republic.
Among those facing the threat of extradition is Alireza Jalilian, who was arrested in Feb. 2021 at the request of the Islamic Republic and is currently being held in a camp awaiting extradition to Iran. There are fears that Jalilian could face execution if returned due to accusations of murder without a fair trial. He has been accused of murdering the head of the Islamabad Police Intelligence Department in June 2019.
Similarly, theater actress Shailin Asadollahi, the sister of two other political prisoners, Ali and Anisha Asadollahi, and refugee Rahim Eliasi have also been issued extradition orders and face the risk of being sent back to Iran, where they could potentially face persecution. Asadollahi, a student in Turkey, went to the police to file a complaint and was subsequently arrested and issued an extradition order. Eliasi, who sought refuge in Turkey with his wife in 2014 after being temporarily released from prison, has received a deportation and extradition order to Iran despite having his asylum request accepted by the United Nations. Rahim Eliasi was sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of “acting against national security”. After spending 7 years in prison, he was able to leave the country.
Followers of other religions who have left the country and sought refuge in Turkey to escape the pressures of the Islamic Republic are not in a better situation. Farid Houshmand, a Baha’i citizen, has had his asylum request rejected by the Turkish Immigration Department and faces the risk of deportation to Iran while he has already got a humanitarian visa from Australia.
This troubling development for Iranian refugees in Turkey can be traced back to a decision by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in September 2018 to stop registering refugees in Turkey and entrust this responsibility to the Turkish Immigration Department. Many had hoped that this decision would not affect those who were previously registered with the UNHCR in Turkey, but it has become apparent that the commissariat has effectively abandoned its commitments to asylum seekers.
The Turkish Immigration Department has summoned asylum seekers for re-interviews, despite many having already been accepted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This move has raised concerns over potential violations of the Geneva Convention and international obligations. Following these interviews, some individuals have been ordered to leave Turkey, even though it is illegal for the Immigration Department to issue such orders to UN-accepted refugees. As a result, between 3,700 and 4,000 Iranians with approved asylum requests are now in a state of uncertainty and at risk of deportation.