Deljou Abadi-Director
Iranian Refugees' Alliance, Inc.

+ 1-212-260-7460

September 4, 2003
Press Release

Twenty Iranian Kurds deported to Iran by Turkish police return after long ordeal, refugees fear more deportations

Twenty Iranian Kurds (12 adults and 8 minor children) who were arrested on Saturday 30 August 2003 by the police in the border town of Van in Turkey and summarily returned to Iran have all managed to return to Van. Arriving in groups since Tuesday night, refugees had spent two nights without food, water, and adequate clothing in the mountainous eastern border zone and endured more ordeals to secure transport back to Van. Since Saturday, the local police have also been accosting and/or arresting dozens more refugees and threatening them with deportation to Iran.

The over thousand Iranians who are being targeted have previously resided in Northern-Iraq, most of them for many years, and are mostly recognized as political refugees by the Office of the United High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there. They have moved to Turkey since 2001 because they were under threat there and UNHCR’s refugee resettlement efforts had long since come to a standstill. But once in Turkey, they are refused legal status by the government. The UNHCR, labeling them as "Irregular Movers", has also been telling them that because they moved they are no longer eligible for resettlement and should return to Northern Iraq. The agency was also issuing formal decisions which endorsed their deportation by the Turkish authorities, but has ceased such decisions since the overthrow of Saddam’s regime in Iraq, and repeatedly recommended that all states, including Turkey, maintain a ban on forced returns to Iraq.

"Van was nothing short of a war zone against destitute and vulnerable ex-Northern-Iraq Iranian Kurds this weekend. Not only did the Turkish police knowingly put refugees at risk of torture and execution by forcibly returning them to Iran, they also treated them in an exceptionally inhumane and disrespectful way," said Iranian Refugees’ Alliance’s director, Deljou Abadi. "Children were cruelly separated from their fathers or both parents and left behind. One deportee who is now badly wounded is a leg amputee. Men, women, and children were snatched from their home in pyjamas and slippers and even barefoot, kept in buses for five or six hours without even once being let to use a bathroom and then stranded in the dark in mountains known to be mine-infested."

Although the police conducted the operation during a weekend obviously to obstruct all intervention, nationally and internationally, the UNHCR office in Van, which was informed of the arrests soon after they occurred, actively intervened on behalf of the deportees. On Monday September 1 2003 Iranian Refugees’ Alliance lodged complaints with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of twelve who were identified by their remaining relatives as deportees, initially requesting the Court to ask the government not to deport them and alleging violations of the European Convention on Human Rights by the Turkish government in connection with the refugees' lack of access to asylum procedures, their circumstances of arrest and their forced return to Iran. A number of Iranian Kurdish organizations and individuals also alerted human rights organizations of the disturbing events in Van. But as it turned out later, the police deported the group in a matter of hours not even pausing for the usual summary legal procedures that all migrant deportees have been processed through in recent years.

UNHCR has so far not been able to obtain clarifications or confirmations from the local police or the government about the deportations. The government has also refused to provide any information to the press. But refugees who have gradually returned since Tuesday night are completing the full picture. All twenty were picked up randomly, sixteen from one residence and four from in front of the post-office. The police identified them by examining their "police papers" which showed that they have been refused legal status. Once arrested, they were stripped of all their documents, valuables and any mobile phones, and then hauled into chartered mini-buses. The buses were already filled with more than fifty other migrants from different countries including Bangladesh and Afghanistan. One refugee escaped on route to the border but all the other seventy or so were driven non-stop to the border and at around midnight released into the custody of border guards in the mountains near the Iranian border. The guards then escorted them for about half a kilometer towards Iranian territory. They then began swearing at them and threatening that if any one of them returned they would be shot. As refugees were forced to walk away the guards fired their rifles off and on for about an hour.

The ex-Northern-Iraq Iranian Kurds in Van have been fearing incidents such as this weekend’s on a daily basis for over two years now. At least two more group forced returns to Iran of these refugees had occurred in the last two years. Karim Tujali who was forcibly returned to Iran in 1998 by the Turkish police was executed by hanging on January 20, 2002. Although UNHCR has announced after this weekend’s incident that it has received verbal assurances from the government that no more deportations would occur, refugees continue to have profound fears because they lack legal status and because UNHCR continues to deny them resettlement assistance.

This weekend’s events while taking a huge toll on refugees has brought a glimmer of hope too. After years of isolating them from international concern, UNHCR has finally publicly acknowledged their insecure conditions. Yesterday, UNHCR announced for the first time the refugees’ numbers. "These are positive steps and hopefully an indication of a change of policy towards this highly vulnerable group of refugees. History has proved many times that UNHCR is capable of moving refugees out of harm’s way permanently, swiftly and efficiently if it puts the interests of refugees first. We hope this happens soon," said Abadi.

For more information on the conditions of the ex-Northern-Iraq refugees please see


Iranian Refugees' Alliance, is a non-profit organization in the US assisting and advocating on behalf of Iranian asylum seekers nationally and internationally.


Iranian Refugees' Alliance, Inc.
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P.O.Box 316
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tel/fax: 212-260-7460