With their Twitter campaign, Iranian refugees in Turkey want the world to hear their voice. (Supplied)

By Aida Ghajar

February 16, 2019

A group of Iranian asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey has launched a Twitter campaign calling for the UN to process their cases after months of deadlock. Not only do the group believe that their cases have not been scheduled for review by the UN Refugee Agency, they suspect they have been shelved altogether.

The group, which began galvanizing the campaign a few weeks ago, will launch a twitterstorm on February 16 between 9pm and 11pm Istanbul time using the hashtags #IranianRefugeesInTurkey and #Resettlement4Iranian. Other Iranian asylum seekers are expected to join the campaign, using it to talk about their situation and to raise awareness of the fact that they have been left in limbo.

“Everyone taking part in this campaign have explored every possible way to solve their cases,” one campaign organizer who has been living in the Turkish city of Van for more than a year told IranWire. “We have gone everywhere that you can think of. In the last year, only 30 Iranian asylum seekers have been accepted by other countries. We have no financial demands. We want nothing except for our cases to be processed. We will take care of our financial problems somehow, but the desperation caused by not being sure about where you stand is more difficult than anything else.”

He and other Iranian refugees say that one of their biggest problems in Turkey is trying to make a living. Most of them work in “under the table” jobs, which present a range of difficulties — including bad pay and long hours. “I am working off the books myself,” he told me. “I have been an electrician. Here, they pay other workers 80 liras per day but I get 30 liras. This is how working off the books goes.”

Iranian asylum seekers who have registered with the UN refugee office are provided shelter. But there are also many Iranian refugees who are not actually seeking asylum in Turkey and are just hoping to pass through on the way to somewhere else. Some of them use human traffickers to find them shelter, or they sleep in the streets. Many of them end up returning to Iran after a while.

The Deals are Not Working

In the early summer of 2018, leaders of the European Union reached a deal on refugees. As a means of improving the situation for refugees and asylum seekers, they agreed to pay Turkey €3 billion (over $3.3 billion) by the end of 2018 to provide necessary facilities. But the asylum seeker I spoke to said, “We have heard that Turkey receives 300 euros for each asylum seeker, but how much does it spend on refugees? One hundred and twenty liras [$22.73] per person. We have an Iranian refugee here who needs dialysis three times a week. By itself, the commute to get dialysis three times per week costs 60 liras per month. Here, renting a place cost 1,500 liras [$284] a month.”

The same summer, after an agreement with the UN, Turkey took over the handling of asylum seekers in order to speed up the process through its own smaller offices, which are distributed throughout the country. In practice, however, a new arrival in Turkey must wait for more than a year to get his or her first identification document, called kimlik. And almost everything depends on kimlik, from renting a place to getting a work permit or acquiring insurance.

Both the UN and EU agreements had the aim of fighting human traffickers and controlling the unbridled flow of refugees into European countries. But in reality, they have led to a boom in the business of human traffickers. As the Iranian asylum seeker I spoke with told me:  “Many Iranians who were living in Turkey lost hope when their cases were not processed after a long time, so they sold whatever they had in Turkey in order to go somewhere else. When the border with Serbia was open many went to that country or to Greece.”

After this situation, he said, many Iranians voluntarily returned to Iran. “Many of the guys returned to Iran although they face prison sentences. There is no war going on in Iran, but we don’t see many countries with as many human rights violations as there are in Iran. The government has taken Iranian people hostage. At the moment only one-third of the asylum seekers who were in Turkey with me have remained in the country. The rest returned voluntarily or have gone to another country illegally. The main problem in Turkey is this uncertainty.”

Iranian refugees in Indonesia and Australia have also joined the new Twitter campaign. The man I spoke to said the initiative is primarily addressed to the United Nations because, even though the processing of documents has been handed over to Turkey, the UN is still supervising the situation. “The UN has announced that it is the supervisor, but in the last two years not one Iranian has been interviewed in order to decide what country they will go to. The priority is given to Syrians, especially to women and children. They deserve it, but in between their cases they [the UN officials] should pay some attention to Iranians as well.”

Not All Asylum Seekers Lie

Another problem with the cases of Iranian asylum seekers is the lies that some of them told when they registered their applications. “We want to ask the UN to process our cases without prejudice resulting from lies that have been told,” my contact said. “The UN and the Turkish police can decide which asylum seeker has lied and which one has not. But why have they turned their backs on all Iranians? We have people in Van who have been living in this city for close to 10 years.”

After their cities of residence have been chosen for them, asylum seekers in Turkey are not allowed to leave that city without a permit from the police. Furthermore, every week they must go to the refugee office and sign a paper to prove that they are still in the city.”

But in addition to waiting for a long time for their cases to be processed, there are other reasons Iranians waiting in Turkey worry. There’s a story of one asylum seeker by the name of Arash Shoaa Shargh who people say was “kidnapped” and is now in prison in Iran. “When we say that our situation is an emergency, an example is Arash Shoaa Shargh, who was kidnapped and was delivered to the Islamic Republic,” the man I spoke to said. “Here, we are not even safe.”

Iranian asylum seekers face yet another problem —  many female asylum seekers have told IranWire that they are often seen as sexual workers, making their situation even more distressing.

Now Iranian refugees are hoping that social media might ensure the international community hears their voices. “In just two weeks we have attracted more than 5,000 followers,” the organizer I spoke with told me. “We started with Iranian asylum seekers in Turkey but now others from other countries have joined us. We want to become a global trend so that, just once, the voice of Iranian refugees will be heard in Turkey and, perhaps, they will process our cases. Many in the groups that cooperate with us want to address the authorities with harsh words but we have started our movement in a peaceful manner.”

According to the Economist, “Iran has among the world’s highest rates of brain drain — 150,000 educated Iranians are thought to leave each year.” At the same time, decisions taken by the UN and the European Union might have blocked legal avenues of entry for asylum seekers, but they have created a boom in human trafficking. If countries including Turkey, Greece or Italy — often the gateways to western and northern European countries — fail to handle the refugee situation, a bigger humanitarian disaster could be on the way.

Iran Wire

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.