By Jennifer Thompson
Fifty Iranian political refugees threatened with deportation to Iran began a sit-in in the Ankara offices of the recently formed United Socialist Party of Turkey (BSP) on August 4. Since then, their number has swelled to 161. The sit-in began after the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) rejected 17 applications for refugee status, paving the way for their deportation by the Turkish police.
The BSP is assisting the refugees and their supporters in the campaign against deportation, and providing security from police, who have surrounded the area. Empty buses are reportedly waiting to take the refugees back to Iran. BSP members have already repelled one attempt by police to enter their offices and arrest refugees.
Refugees who are returned to Iran face long jail sentences, with a strong possibility of torture and execution by a regime that has gone to great lengths to silence its opponents.
A spokesperson for the Sydney branch of the International Federation of Iranian Refugees and Migrants Council said there was a security agreement between the Turkish and Iranian governments. This agreement included direct swaps of political opponents of each government — the Iranian regime exchanges captured Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants for its opponents who have taken refuge in Turkey.
The spokesperson said a list of 100 refugees from the Iranian regime had been passed to the Turkish government, to be swapped for PKK fighters. Turkey's foreign minister planned to visit Tehran this week to finalise the "transaction".
Also of concern to Iranian refugees is the indifference of the UNHCR to their plight. The UNHCR has transferred responsibility for the processing of refugee claims from its mission in Ankara to the Turkish authorities. In some cases it had forced refugees to move to cities on the border, resulting in some deportations. According to the council, a number now jailed in Iran had previously been given official refugee status and accepted by the Australian embassy for settlement here.
The council is calling on the UNHCR to:
meets its responsibility to refugees in accordance with the Geneva Convention;
reopen the files of those in the sit-in and their families, accept them as refugees and transfer them to safe countries;
ensure the security of the refugees and prevent their deportation by Turkish police.
Australian organisations that have supported the council's call to protest against the policies of the Turkish government and UNHCR include the CFMEU and Public Transport Union. Protest letters can be faxed to the Turkish Ministry of the Interior, at 90 312 287 3869, or the UNHCR Ankara mission at 90 312 438 2702.