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Fact File: What Can You Expect as an Iranian Asylum Seeker in Turkey?

July 14, 2020
Faramarz Davar
5 min read
The Turkish government has an international obligation not to expel or extradite any asylum seeker whose life would be put in danger
The Turkish government has an international obligation not to expel or extradite any asylum seeker whose life would be put in danger
Asylum seekers who try to move illegally across the Turkish border into a third country run the risk of deportation
Asylum seekers who try to move illegally across the Turkish border into a third country run the risk of deportation

Turkey is one of the main destinations for Iranian asylum seekers due to its proximity to Iran, relative ease of access and visa waiver agreement. On crossing the border from Iran, new arrivals have a time-limited window opportunity apply to the Turkish Immigration Service for asylum.

 

What Can You Expect on Applying for Asylum?

Access to a lawyer and an interpreter in their mother tongue are vital for fundamental right of these asylum seekers. The Turkish government is obliged to provide interpreters for asylum seekers but not lawyers. Without a translator present asylum seekers should refrain from signing any form, or any statement that might impose an obligation on him or her in the future.

Asylum seekers have the right to reside in Turkey while their application is being processed and ahead of their possible deportation to a refugee-hosting country. Leaving the designated Turkish city requires police permission. In some cases, the Turkish authorities may ask asylum seekers to confirm their presence in the city of residence on certain days by reporting to government offices and signing the books.

In some cases the processing time is extended. When this happens, asylum seekers are often able to leave their place of residence without police permission, may refuse to sign the government books in time, unilaterally change their city of residence or even leave Turkey unlawfully. In this case, the main destination is usually a country in the European Union that shares a border with Turkey: Greece, or sometimes Bulgaria.

 

What Behavior Creates a Deportation Risk?

Turkish police can arrest people that flout its immigration law. If there are more serious offences – such as buying and selling drugs or smuggling goods – they may be ordered to leave the country. The extradition must be bycourt order. Any asylum seeker sentenced to extradition will be returned to their country of origin, including Iran, unless the matter is referred to a higher court. If the convicted person objects it can go to the Turkish Supreme Court and, if it is not overturned there, they may be able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

Other asylum seekers at risk of being deported from Turkey or ordered to leave are those who try to move illegally across the Turkish border into a third country after arriving. Most of these illegal exit routes are via smugglers’ boats, which are often ill-equipped and unsuitable for long voyages, and pose a danger to human life.

In some cases Turkish police will arrest an asylum seeker for violating Turkish domestic law and ask them to leave by issuing an expulsion form. If this person does not leave Turkey, they will be transferred to a camp or extradition center. Asylum seekers who receive such an order from the police to leave Turkey should immediately refer the matter to their lawyer, family members and close relatives and most importantly, to the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Turkish government has an international obligation not to expel or extradite any asylum seeker whose life would be put in danger as a consequence, or who might be subjected to torture in their home country on their return.

In many cases, Iranian asylum seekers face being tortured or sentenced to death under Iranian law if they return. The most important advice to Iranian asylum seekers is to strictly adhere to the rules of the host country as soon as they arrive, make themselves known and apply for asylum. They should refrain from carrying out any illicit activities or from leaving Turkey illegally with the aim of entering the territories of the European Union countries.

 

Who is Turkey Answerable to?

Asylum seekers who comply with Turkish law can expect the rights and benefits granted to them by the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees and international law, until their final status is decided. Turkey receives funding from the UN to protect and provide for the basic living needs of asylum seekers and is responsible for how it is spent.

The Turkish Immigration Office goes directly handles asylum matters, but its actions must be in accordance with UN regulations and the international obligations of the Turkish government to asylum seekers. Any violation of the rights of asylum seekers by government officials can be prosecuted by the High Commissioner. If asylum seekers comply with Turkish law, the Turkish government is not allowed to deport them or extradite them to another country until the case has been processed.

Even if the asylum application is initially rejected, any asylum seeker whose life may be put in danger or who might be tortured on being deported can refer the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, as this could be a breach of Turkey’s obligations under the European Charter of Human Rights. The ECHR recognizes the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the right to personal liberty and access to a fair trial, respect for individuals’ private and family life, freedom of thought and religion, and the prohibition of all forms of discrimination. If the extradition of an asylum seeker endangers or violates any of the above guarantees, the European Court of Human Rights can override a given country’s extradition of them.

 

What if Turkey Breaks the Law?

If an asylum seeker is arbitrarily deported or extradited by the Turkish government, he or she has been the victim of an unlawful act and should go to the High Commissioner for Refugees in Turkey. If they are not available, they should defer to United Nations representatives.

If this is not possible, they should go to the embassy or representative of a European country in Turkey to make their case. They should also notify international bodies such as Amnesty International. Legal aid should be sought to bring a complaint against Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights.

If an asylum seeker at risk of torture or death is illegally handed over to Iranian government officials and taken back to Iran, he or she will be subject to the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran and no practical measure can be taken by international institutions.

Only individuals from the family of an extradited person living outside of Iran, or an appointed person acting on their behalf, can file a complaint from Turkey to international bodies such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Human Rights Council and the European Court of Human Rights to prevent this illegal behavior.

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