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Advice & Representation

After escaping to another country to seek protection from persecution, the most critical challenge facing refugees is the determination of their status as refugees. Depending on which country they end up in, this status is determined by the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedure established either by the government of that country or by the local office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). If refugees are denied this status by either decision-maker they will likely be deported to their country of origin.

The RSD process is complex and requires decision-makers to have a correct knowledge of relevant legal principles as well as the ability to assess appropriately the merits of the case, which often contains unfamiliar and complicated factual situations about a foreign country. While each case has its own peculiarities and needs to be fully and adequately presented to the examining authority, very few refugee claimants have any familiarity with the requirements of RSD systems. Many are unable to function in the foreign language of the country where they claim asylum.

A competent legal advisor is therefore essential to ensure that the refugee claimant explains the facts of his or her claim clearly and comprehensively and to provide the needed legal arguments to show that s/he meets the legal criteria for refugee status. Understanding the claimant's culture and direct communication in his or her mother tongue makes the process considerably more accurate and productive.

Many Iranians who flee to seek protection in other countries end up in western countries where RSD is done by governments and where they have access to low cost or free legal advice and representation. However, the advice and representation they receive is not always sufficient or helpful and sometimes even do more harm to their cases than no assistance at all.

IRA-INC assists Iranian refugee applicants in western countries by making referrals to experienced lawyers for representation of cases, submitting written comments on the substance of refugee claims to refugee decision-making bodies and critiques of decisions already made on claims by refugee decision-making bodies before review bodies. IRA-INC also works with refugee applicants and/or their lawyers to better establish and argue the substance of claims, and provides translation and interpretation and documentation to support the substance of claims.

Mina's case ( Canada )

In her mid-20s, Mina was arrested for political activity. Threatened with execution, she agreed to marry a Revolutionary Guard (pasdar). The mullah who was called into the pasdar's office, muttered a prayer and gave religious legitimacy to the "marriage" on a piece of paper. Thereafter, the pasdar raped Mina repeatedly and locked her up in his house. Realizing with despair that she was pregnant, Mina escaped and underwent a secret illegal abortion. Then she fled Iran and settled in Canada.

The refugee tribunal who decided Mina's claim did not believe her story. Failing to grasp the nature of the coerced "marriage," the tribunal concluded that it was "highly improbable, and therefore implausible" that in a country where "marital status" was so "central to a woman's identity," a marriage had taken place without either family being present and without being entered in Mina's birth-certificate. Nor did Mina succeed at the appeal stage. When Mina finally contacted IRA-INC, she was ordered deported. Her only chance was a humanitarian review of her case.

IRA-INC made sure that Mina underwent a psychological and gynecological exam. Medical reports produced by these examinations painted a shocking picture of sexual torture and its devastating aftermath. IRA-INC also submitted a commentary, criticizing the tribunal for interpreting Mina's evidence through western paradigms and not investigating the real conditions of marriage and prisons in Iran. With documented evidence, we established that in 1984 the Iranian Islamic regime cancelled the previously existing punishment for not registering marriages in birth-certificates calling it "non-Islamic" and argued the possibility that Mina's marriage could have been a "temporary" one. This practice is widely known to be prevalent in Iran's prisons and not only is not entered into birth-certificates but is often conducted with just a verbal contract.

Many also end up in countries like Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, and Malaysia where RSD is conducted by UNHCR and where legal assistance is not available at all or is scarce. As a neighbor of Iran, Turkey has been a major country of first asylum for Iranians. Over the past decade, after the United Kingdom, Turkey has been the second most important destination country for Iranian asylum seekers, with an average of 2,650 applications per year. IRA-INC assists Iranian asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey with their UNHCR refugee cases by providing individual or group counseling via telephone, assistance in preparation of statements and appeal letters, translation, documentation, and also by representing vulnerable applicants on appeal with written submissions.

Mousa's case (Turkey/UNHCR)

When IRA-INC found out about Mousa's imminent deportation, there were only a few days left on his permit to stay in Turkey. These days coincided with IRA-INC's visit to Turkey. UNHCR agreed in a meeting to provide the reasons for Mousa's rejection: The officer who interviewed him a year earlier did not believe that his conversion from Islam to Christianity was genuine.

In the officer's assessment, Mousa had failed his quiz on Christ and Christmas, as he had expressed that he did not know the birth-date of Christ and said that Christmas was celebrated in January. The officer also had concluded without asking that the town which Mousa was ordered to reside in, Konya, did not have a church and assessed Mousa's lack of effort to relocate elsewhere to attend church as yet another indication that his conversion was not genuine.

Having had the chance to travel to Konya and meet face to face with Mousa and members of his bible study group, IRA-INC provided evidence that not only had Mousa been a regular participant in the bible study group but also that Konya did have a small church run by Italian nuns and which Mousa regularly attended. Furthermore, IRA-INC argued that since Mousa's experience with Christmans was with the Armenian community, which celebrate Christmas on January 6th rather than on December 25th with the rest of the world, his answer was correct and consistent with his experience. So was his lack of answer to Christ's birth date as this date has neither been recorded in the Gospels nor historically established.

IRA-INC has pioneered international litigation under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) against the government of Turkey to challenge deportation, detention and detention conditions of refugees.

From 1998-2006 IRA-INC focused on refugees whose cases had been unfairly rejected by the UNHCR and successfully prevented the deportation of 23 refugees (six cases) by lodging complaints on their behalf with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In five cases UNHCR reversed its decisions during the ECtHR's proceedings. In one case (D. et al (24245/03)) the negative decision was reversed after the ECtHR overruled UNHCR's decision. This was the first and only time that an international tribunal had scrutinized and condemned a faulty decision by UNHCR that had resulted in an unlawful deportation order for the applicants.

Cases whose deportation by the Turkish government were prevented and who received a positive result from UNHCR after IRA-INC filed complaints on their behalf to the ECtHR

petitioner date of petition outcome UNHCR refugee status
before petition after petition
G.H.H. et al (43258/98) 26 Aug.1998 struck out denied (3 reviews) granted Mar. 99
A.Sh. et al (41396/98) 24 May 1998 struck out denied (3 reviews) granted Jun 99
A.E. et al (45279/99) 07 Jan 1999 struck out denied (3 reviews) granted May 00
M.T. et al (46765/99) 10 Mar 1999 struck out denied (3 reviews) granted Dec. 00
D. et al (24245/03) 04 Aug 2003 violation (22 Jun 2006) denied (4 reviews) granted Sep. 06
N.M. et al (42175/05) 25 Nov 2005 struck out denied (4 reviews) granted Dec. 06

In 2009/10, IRA-INC won six new cases against the Turkish government on behalf of seven UNHCR-recognized refugees. These include the precedent-setting case of Abdolkhani and Karimnia v. Turkey I (30471/08) in which the ECtHR issued a sweeping pronouncement that applicants' unlawful detention and deportation by the Turkish government violated Articles 3, 13, 5-1, 5-2 and 5-4 of the Convention. These cases challenged the legality of applicants' impending deportation, their detention and the unsatisfactory material conditions under which they had been detained .

ECtHR cases won by IRA-INC challenging applicants' deportation, detention and detention conditions

petitioner date of petition date of ruling decision
violation(s) of the ECHR award of just satisfaction
Abdolkhani & Karimnia I v. Turkey (30471/08) 30 Jun. 2008 22 Sep. 2009 Articles 3, 13, 5 §§ 1, 2, 4 €43,500
Tehrani v. Turkey (32940/08) 15 Jul. 2008 13 Apr. 2010 Articles 3, 13, 5 §§ 1, 2, 4 €29,500
Norouzi v. Turkey (41626/08) 02 Sep. 2008 13 Apr. 2010 Articles 3, 13, 5 §§ 1, 2, 4 €23,500
Kazempour & Ranjbar v. Turkey (43616/08) 15 Sep. 2008 13 Apr. 2010 Articles 3, 13, 5 §§ 1, 2, 4 €45,500
Moghadass v. Turkey (46134/08) 28 Sep. 2008 15 Feb. 2011 Articles 5 §§ 1, 2, 4 €12,500
Abdolkhani & Karimnia II (50213/08) 20 Oct. 2008 27 Jul. 2010 Article 3 €20,000

In 2010/11 IRA-INC filed two cases before the ECtHR against the government of Sweden. The seven applicants represented in these cases were facing deportation following rejection of their refugee application(s). At the last stage of long proceedings, the Swedish Migration Board granted refugee status to all seven applicants.

Cases whose deportation by the Swedish government were prevented and who received refugee status following applications to ECtHR

petitioner date of petition outcome refugee status
before petition after petition
J.H.K. and Others v. Sweden (55044/10) 27 Sep 2010 struck out 11 Jun 2013 denied (1 application) granted Feb 2013
K.A. v. Sweden (21771/11) 6 Apr 2011 struck out 11 Jun 2013 denied (2 applications) granted Sep 2012