According to Iranian journalist Neda Amin, the Turkish authorities used to call her a dirty Jew and threaten to deport her back to Iran, where she would have been raped and executed for her political beliefs.
If one opens up an American newspaper, one can read many stories on the horrific fate of Yezidi refugees, who fled from Iraq and Syria. One can also read about the tragic fate of Palestinian refugees, who in Syria have been systematically abducted or arrested due to the fact that they were wanted by the Assad government or wanted their families to pay ransom for them. However, there are other refugees, whose stories are being systematically ignored by the American people. Their voices are not being listened to since their nightmare does not fit into the narrow political agenda of certain individuals.
One such group of refugees are Iranians in Turkey, whose voices stand witness to the crimes committed by both Erdogan and the mullah’s regime. Trump wants to appease Erdogan in order for the US to leave Syria and so do the Europeans, who want Turkey to continue to block the flow of refugees into their continent. While the Democrats in the US Congress may not be Erdogan fans, they do want to save the Iran deal, the very same treaty which has empowered those repressive elements that promoted these Iranian refugees to flee their country to begin with. For this reason, their voices are being systematically silenced for their stories contain an inconvenient truth to those in power in the West.
However, despite every attempt to silence their voices, these Iranian refugees continue to speak out and for good reason too. As Iranian journalist Neda Amin, who for three years lived as a refugee in Turkey, proclaimed: “Every day in my mind, I relieve the nightmare that I experienced as an Iranian refugee in Turkey. Even though I was a registered UN refugee, the Turkish authorities used to call me a dirty Jew due to my work for an Israeli newspaper and threatened to deport me back to Iran, where I would have been raped and executed for my political beliefs.”
“While it is true that some Iranian refugees do manage to avoid my fate by living silent lives, as demonstrated by the Iranian refugees in Turkey who are increasingly converting to Christianity, any refugee who has the courage to stand up for anything that contradicts Erdogan’s ideology can potentially face deportation hearings, a lesson that I learned the hard way,” she related. “In fact, if I did not have a Jewish grandma and thus was accepted as a refugee in Israel, I believe that Turkey would have sent me back to Iran and I would be dead by now. Furthermore, I can confirm that I am not the only Iranian refugee who has suffered what I did. Not only are there reports in the Turkish media about Iranian refugees within Turkey who live in fear of deportation but I know of others whose story is similar to mine.”
About two years ago, the Times of Israel reported that Iranian journalist Peyman Aref was arrested and imprisoned by the Turkish authorities due to his journalistic work. Afterwards, Aref told Amin privately that the Turkish authorities sought to deport him back to Iran. However, he noted that he was fortunate that his wife was able to attract the attention of the media, who advocated on his behalf. He insisted that due to international pressure, they decided to deport him to Lebanon instead and from there, he managed to make it to a third country.
Apparently, the Iranian refugees do have a good reason to live in fear. Iranian journalist Dr. Reza Parchizadeh told JerusalemOnline: “Erdogan and the Iranian regime have a love-hate relationship. They sometimes work together and some other times are against each other. One area in which they usually work together is on refugees. Iranian refugees are mostly unwanted in Turkey. They are not treated like human beings. The Turkish government allows for agents of the Iranian regime to work among the refugees. I know of instances that the regime established societies among the Iranian community in Turkey in order to spy on them. This could not have remained hidden from the eyes of the Turkish intelligence. The whole situation has exacerbated since the affairs of the refugees in Turkey was handed by the UN to the Turkish authorities. This means that the Turkish authorities have a more considerable say regarding the refugees. This can play into the hands of the Iranian regime.”
In an exclusive interview, an Iranian Kurdish journalist and refugee living in Turkey, who spoke on condition that he remained anonymous, related: “The Turkish Immigration Office is part of the Turkish Interior Ministry and thus are part of the security apparatus. Most of their people are police officers. They treat the refugees in a militaristic way.” According to the Iranian American Council, historically, both predominately Sunni Turkey and majority Shia Iran have competed against each other for regional control. However, they claim that in recent years, a joint position against Kurdish national aspirations and the refugee issue have brought both countries closer together. According to the report, Turkey is very anxious to solve its refugee crisis and therefore is eager to cooperate with Iran on this issue. Currently, there are close to 4 million refugees residing in Turkey. A 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey has resulted in a reality where Turkey is hosting refugees in exchange for financial incentives, which has significantly decreased the number of migrants who have died while trying to illegally enter into Europe.
However, the Iranian Kurdish journalist refugee proclaimed that this deal has not been beneficial to him: “Refugees are the slaves of the 21st century. Turkey is delivered billions of dollars to keep us here as prisoners. If we want to go to another city, we need police permission. We have no permission to work legally. This forces people to work as laborers. I have a master’s degree. I was forced to work in a factory with my wife for two months. In the end, they did not pay us. We feared to go to the police because we did not have permission to work and we were afraid that they would penalize us. We do have insurance to go to hospitals and we have the right to an education but that is it.”
According to the European Resettlement Network, Turkey maintains that the 1951 Refugee Convention only applies to European refugees due to its geographical limitation. For this reason, non-European refugees including Iranians are granted temporary asylum seeking status in Turkey only and are required to register with the UNHRC. As a result of this policy, resettlement to a third country remains the only option for Iranian refugees living in Turkey. According to the understandings reached with the international community, it is the responsibility of the UNHRC to find viable third countries for Iranian refugees in Turkey. But in the wake of the deal with the EU and Trump’s anti-immigration policies, the Iranian refugee noted that his chances for settlement in a third country are quite bleak.
However, during the duration of time that it takes for the UNHRC to find third countries for individual Iranian refugees, the UNHRC is powerless to prevent the Turkish authorities from implementing extradition treaties with the Iranian government. Furthermore, since Turkey changed their laws, all Iranian refugees now have to go through the Turkish Police before they go to the UNHRC and this could potentially endanger them. Historically, Iran is known to go after dissidents who move abroad, whether by murdering them or getting Turkey to deport them back to the Islamic Republic.
For example, Iranian journalist Arash Shoa Shargh fled to Turkey after he was condemned to suffer 40 lashes following complaints from an Iranian MP for spreading lies and publishing without permission. However, he was eventually abducted and sent back to Iran. According to the Iranian refugee source, Turkish police handed him over to Iranian security officials. Sources inside Iran confirm that he is presently being tortured inside of an Iranian prison. Amin added, “According to an Iranian police officer and a bus driver who witnessed the incident, the Turkish government has secretly delivered some 16 people to the border between Turkey and Iran. These people were taken to a detention facility in Tabriz. After that, no one saw what else happened to them.”
According to the Iranian refugee, Sirwan Morady, a member of the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, a Kurdish opposition group, was also deported from Turkey to Iran. He added that Adel Bahrani, another Kurdish political refugee, is presently being held in a Turkish detention center and is awaiting deportation by the Turkish authorities. In Iran, the source noted that he can expect to be executed or serve a long prison sentence. In another instance, Touraj Esmeeli, a senior level advisor working for Iran’s missile and development program at Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, fled to Turkey together with hundreds of classified documents. According to Iran’s Crime Research Center, Iran enlisted the support of the Turkish authorities in deporting him back to the Islamic Republic but he managed to escape inside of one of Istanbul’s Western consulates.
In an exclusive interview, another Iranian refugee and political activist in Turkey, who asked to remain anonymous, stated: “Due to my political activities, I was frequently interrogated by Turkish security officials and was eventually threatened with deportation to Iran. They asked me, ‘Why are you politically active against Iran? Why do you write about human rights issues in Iran?’” They told the source that “Your life does not matter to us. Your problem does!” In addition, they declared: “You do not have the right to do political activity in our country. If you continue, we will deal with you.”
According to the Iranian source, “These threats came at a time when the Turkish government was completely aware of the consequences of my return to Iran. The Turkish police know well that if I were sent to Iran, I would be imprisoned and tortured. But they still threaten me and interrogated me. According to international human rights law, this is a big crime. What kind of refuge is Turkey if I have to live with mental and psychological intimidation?” Presently, there is a case against this political refugee in Turkey. At any moment, this Iranian refugee can be deported back to the Islamic Republic.
Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, a human rights organization, stated in an exclusive interview: “We are deeply concerned by Turkey’s apparent violations of its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention to which Turkey is a signatory. We remind Turkey that it is obligated under international law to give shelter to those who are fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution.”
However, Iranian refugees in Turkey are far from the only victims. Another group of refugees that have been forgotten is Kashmir Pandits. According to Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, in January 1990, at least 300,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee their homes after militancy broke out in Kashmir. According to him, they were forced to flee, even though they are the indigenous Hindu inhabitants of the Kashmir region: “In the past, there were no Muslims in Kashmir. But since the beginning of the first millennium, Muslims start dominating in Kashmir. In 1339, Shah Meer became the first Muslim ruler in the area and since then, the Muslim population in Kashmir grew steadily. Hindus in the region have been murdered, raped and forcefully converted. At present, the percentage of Hindus left in Kashmir stands at 1.84% and 97.16% of the population are Muslim.”
To this day, the remaining Hindu inhabitants of the Kashmir region continue to suffer. Like the Hindus of Bangladesh and the Rohingya Hindu refugees, they face an uncertain future as a stateless refugee in India proper or facing non-stop persecution from their Muslim neighbors, who wish to see them forcefully expelled from their homes. A few weeks ago, a suicide bomber blew himself in the midst of an Indian military convoy. This brutal terror attack resulted in the abduction of an Indian pilot and two countries, India and Pakistan, were almost at the brink of war. In the past, three wars were fought over this disputed piece of land.
Meanwhile, until a resolution to the conflict is found, the indigenous inhabitants of the region continue to suffer and the 300,000 who fled don’t know when they will be able to return. While the New York Times likes to blame the Indian government for mass repression and to search for reasons why the Muslim suicide bomber blew himself up, not many in the American media speak about the Kashmir Pandits and why they were forced to leave their homes behind. It is not convenient for them to examine the role of Pakistan in brutally repressing Hindus. Indeed, like the plight of Iranians in Turkey, their stories are also swept under the carpet.