PUERTA DE ORIENTE Iranian Christian refugees in ‘Turkish limbo’, amid harassment and threats of repatriation

The report submitted by several international NGOs shows the critical problems faced by those who leave the Islamic Republic, especially converts, to escape persecution. Abuses by employers, high rents and lack of education for children are some of the critical issues. The serious delays in the relocation system in third countries (especially the United States, Canada and Australia).

Milan () – Laid off by employers, with limited opportunities for financial assistance, owners who are reluctant to rent an apartment or who ask for a guarantee above market prices. Freedom of movement restricted to the province of registration, special permits to travel to other places, threat of withdrawal of refugee status and international protection, including deportation. Since the Ankara authorities were delegated in 2018 by the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to carry out the task of evaluating asylum claims and refugee status, the situation of Iranian Christian migrants has become even more complicated. New obstacles are now added to the drama of persecution and exile from their land, in a general condition of limbo from which it is only possible to get out in a few cases and with extreme difficulty, on the horizon of a life determined by survival. This is how a recent report describes the situation of Christian refugees in Turkey, according to which they “live in precarious conditions, without work or stable income, with the constant risk of being deported.”

Fleeing Christians

“I fled to Turkey – says Mojtaba Golmohammadi – because in Iran I was constantly threatened and without access to education, they closed my business and did not allow me to have a job.” My family and I “received continuous pressure”, adds Amin Salmani, due to “our Christian religion”, and even “some members of our church were arrested. We fled for fear that they would also put us in jail”. These are some of the many testimonies collected in the study published in June by various international activist groups (Open Doors, Csw, Article18 and Middle East Concern), on the persecution of Christians in Iran and the difficulties of those who choose to flee abroad. making a first stopover in Turkey.

“We don’t have a permanent job – confirms the exile Mohsen Aliabady Ravari -, so any employer can easily fire us”. “In Turkey – Shadi Noveiri Gilani echoes – I live in a condition of deep uncertainty, because I have no rights as a refugee”, and even after seven years I am still waiting for an interview in the specialized agencies to be recognized as a refugee. asylum seeker. In Iran, the repression, arrests and sentences of those who abandon Islam are part of a policy imposed by the authorities who, in a country with a Shiite majority, consider Christians “apostates”. The most persecuted are the Protestant and Evangelical groups, but there is no shortage of abuses against Catholics, which fuel the flight of entire families across the border. The data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not specify how many of the tens of thousands of Iranians who have asked for protection in Ankara are Christians, but the general opinion is that it is a “significant number”.

Türkiye, a popular destination

Citizens of the Islamic Republic do not need a visa to enter Turkey, a country that can be accessed both by land and by plane. In addition, travel and accommodation, at least initially, are relatively inexpensive, and it is not uncommon to find Iranian Christian families arriving as tourists or to participate in conferences, training events, or recreation. Added to this is a good knowledge of the country and its culture, in some ways similar to the Iranian one, and most major Turkish cities have one or more churches for Persian-speaking Christians, making it easy to practice worship. There are also those who do not have travel documents and try to enter Turkey illegally through mountain passes enlisting the help of smugglers. This involves many risks, due to the danger implied by the traffickers themselves -unscrupulous- and due to the remote possibility of running into border guards. However, many converts have taken this path because they feel that the risks they face in their country far outweigh those of the journey.

A source, who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals against his family, who remained in Iran, tells how the journey was: “At any moment, the Iranian or Turkish police could have opened the doors of a truck and taken us prisoner, so we “It was a very stressful experience. When we arrived in Turkey, we were lost and exhausted. We felt insecure for a long time,” he recalls, “because we had to face very difficult conditions.” Another Christian exile, Reza Mousavi, explains the problems they had upon arrival: “Those of us who fled persecution did not do so with a ready plan. We didn’t have savings to take with us, we didn’t learn the language before, we didn’t know what we could do or anything else. The Turkish government, the UN, ASAM [Asociación para la Solidaridad con los Solicitantes de Asilo y los Migrantes], all these authorities do not help us financially in any way. During my first interview I had to sign a document stating that I had no claim to receive help or support. They don’t offer you accommodation or a place to sleep, and if you want to rent a house, the price is higher than for a Turkish citizen.”

living in limbo

Christians apply for international reception and seek a first refuge in Turkey by registering as asylum seekers. Once the applications have been processed and their refugee status recognized, migrants must receive help within the framework of a relocation plan in a third country. However, not all applications are accepted and even if they are successful, resettlement takes years. Meanwhile, most survive in precarious conditions, without work or income, at risk of deportation if Ankara cancels their residence permit.

The report, prepared by some of the NGOs most active in defending Christian refugees and persecuted minorities, shows that in the Turkey of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who has made “nationalism and Islam” his trump card – resettlement it usually takes a long time. A large part of the study highlights the difficulties that exiles must face: lack of work, exploitation and economic problems, withdrawal of health insurance, discrimination, racism, social hostility and security threats, critical situation for the education of children and psychological pressure. Finally, there are few expatriation opportunities to the most sought after destinations, which are Canada, Australia and the United States.

In the past many refugees (Christians and non-Christians) in Turkey were resettled through the UN mechanism, which has slowed down considerably lately. According to UNHCR, in mid-2022 there were 32.5 million refugees worldwide, 3.7 million of whom were hosted by Ankara; at the same time, in the first six months of last year only 42,300 refugees were relocated globally, with or without the help of UN agencies. If the program continues at this rate, it will take nearly 400 years to relocate refugees from around the world, subjected to increasing abuse and rape. “In Turkey I experienced great traumas without receiving any support – concludes Mojtaba Hosseini – and the pain of the migrant condition added to the sufferings of the past, perpetuating the drama”.



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Written by Editor TLN

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