On Saturday, August 21 of this year, nine Iranian Kurdish asylum seekers trying to reach Europe were detained by police on the Turkish border. They introduced themselves as Syrians to the Turkish police for fear of being returned to their real country of origin, Iran. As such, they were and deported to Syria four days later along with 57 others who had originally come from the Iraqi Kurdish region.
Some of the group’s family members spoke to IranWire and said they understand their loved ones to currently be in the hands of the Free Syrian Army. Several relatives have appealed to officials of the Islamic Republic to ask for their extradition from Syria to Iran.
The nine asylum seekers arrested on August 21 were Damavand Pakseresht, Mobin Valdebeigi, Afshar Rostami, Bahman Shadruvan, Masoud Heidari, Saeed Ahmadi, Fardin Darvishpour and Hedayat Rokhzadi Zardavi, all from Paveh city in Kermanshah province, and Arman Rashidi from Sardasht, a city in West Azerbaijan. Their families said poverty and unemployment in their hometowns, and the desire to build a better life for themselves, had compelled their flight for Europe.
The fate of these nine is still unknown. Last week, the 57 others they were sent to Syria with, who had come from Iraqi Kurdistan, were repatriated by the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). Three of them escaped in transit. But despite the efforts of the Iranian Kurds’ families, the Islamic Republic of Iran had yet to initiate the same process at the time of writing.
One of the 54 asylum seekers now back in Iraqi Kurdistan, who is from Sulaymaniyah, told IranWire that the nine Iranian nationals were handed over to the Free Syrian Army, a key faction in the Syrian Civil War opposed to Bashar al-Assad's government. Those fighters in turn passed them on to an Islamist faction of the army, Jaysh al-Hur, which is supported by the Turkish government. "We were later transferred to the northern Syrian city of Azaz,” he said. “We and the Iranian asylum seekers tried very hard to convince the Jaysh al-Hur officials that we were not Syrians so that they could return us to Turkey, but they didn’t hear us."
Afshin Rostami, the brother of Afshar Rostami, who lives in Britain, told IranWire a Syrian contact in Azaz had informed him of the group’s current whereabouts. “All nine are being held at a religious school in Azaz, and according to what we’ve been told, they have no particular problems in terms of food and accommodation. But apparently the Jaysh al-Hur militia does not allow them to make telephone calls or connect to the Internet."
He added that Jaysh al-Hur had made their release conditional on some kind of monetary payment. “We have serious doubts about the validity of this request by the Jaish al-Hor. For that reason, we asked our intermediary to allow the possibility of a short phone call to the prisoners, in order to check this request is correct, in addition to making sure they’re safe. The latest news that came to us through this person was that Jaysh al-Hur was planning to put all nine of them on trial in the next few days. At the moment, we don’t have any more news, or the reasons for the trial.”
His family was one of several that have tried to follow up on the group’s case with officials in Iran. “Our family wrote to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran last Wednesday, September 15, and asked them for help. The relevant officials said that all nine families should submit a written request and attached documents to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs so that the necessary measures could be taken through the Iranian embassy in Turkey. They have also indicated that the extradition process will take at least one to three months."
On why his brother chose to leave Kermanshah, he said: "None of these people have left the country for security reasons. As far as I know, all nine left Iran due to extreme poverty. In all my contact with all the families, not a single one of them has mentioned a security background.”
Afshar is an English translation graduate who never managed to secure a job in one of the government offices. He set up his own firm close to Paveh’s Azad University for a while, but then lost his clients during Covid-19. He finally decided to leave his hometown on April 14 this year. "As far as I know, all of these people left the country for security reasons,” his brother said. “In all my contact with all the families, not a single one of them has mentioned a security background.”
A relative of Mobin Valadbeigi, who asked not to be named, also spoke to IranWire about his family's efforts to rescue the trapped asylum seekers. Last Thursday, September 16, and on the morning of Saturday, September 18, several families went to the offices of Mullah Ghader Ghaderi, Paveh’s Friday Imam, to ask him for help. On neither occasion was he available for a meeting, but his clerk promised to help them. He also reportedly stressed that they should not talk to foreign media.
“Except for Afshar Rostami,” the same source said, “the other seven people from Paveh are married and have young children, and their financial situation is very fragile. Hedayat Rokhzadi Zardavi, for instance, worked as a kolbar and laborer before leaving Iran. His mother and wife now live in a rented house. Damavand Pakseresht was also forced to face the dangers of asylum-seeking to seek a comfortable life for his three-month-old child, whom he’s not even seen yet.”
The family of Arman Rashidi, the sole asylum seeker from Sardasht, declined to speak to IranWire.