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WikiLeaks: 2009-07-28: 09ISTANBUL287: Iranian Refugees in Turkey: No Sign Yet of a Post-Election Asylum-Seeker Surge

by WikiLeaks. 09ISTANBUL287: July 28, 2009.

Posted: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 08:54 AM UT


Viewing cable 09ISTANBUL287, IRANIAN REFUGEES IN TURKEY: NO SIGN YET OF A

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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
09ISTANBUL287 2009-07-28 11:16 CONFIDENTIAL Consulate Istanbul
VZCZCXRO8070
PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDIR RUEHKUK RUEHTRO
DE RUEHIT #0287/01 2091116
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 281116Z JUL 09
FM AMCONSUL ISTANBUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9091
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ISTANBUL 000287 
 
SIPDIS 
 
LONDON FOR MURRAY; BERLIN FOR PAETZOLD; BAKU FOR MCCRENSKY; 
ASHGABAT FOR TANGBORN; BAGHDAD FOR POPAL; DUBAI FOR IRPO 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/28/2019 
TAGS: PHUM PREF PGOV PREL PINS IR TU AF
SUBJECT: IRANIAN REFUGEES IN TURKEY: NO SIGN YET OF A 
POST-ELECTION ASYLUM-SEEKER SURGE 
 
REF: (A) 2008 ISTANBUL 416 (B) ISTANBUL 55 (C) 7/9/09 
     BAKU IRAN WATCHER EMAIL (D) ASHGABAT 872 
 
Classified By: Consul General Sharon Wiener; reason 1.5 (d). 
 
1.  (C) Summary: In recent meetings with UNHCR and ICMC 
representatives in Turkey we learned that neither 
organization has seen a significant surge, yet, of Iranians 
coming to Turkey to request asylum or refugee status as a 
result of the post-election crackdown in Iran.  However, 
UNHCR officials underscored that given the several-month 
delay between its initial registration of asylum-seekers and 
UNHCR's detailed follow-up interview to help determine 
refugee status, they hope to have a more detailed picture by 
late August of how many Iranian asylum seekers fled Iran 
because of post-election political repression or risk of 
persecution.  Both UNHCR and ICMC are prepared to deal with a 
short-term surge of Iranian asylum-seekers, but a lack of 
Farsi interpreters in both organizations precludes them from 
handling a sustained flood of Iranian refugees.  UNHCR's and 
ICMC's current caseloads, with 4070 Iranians currently 
registered with UNHCR Turkey, are primarily cases based on 
fear of persecution for religious reasons (Bahai and 
Christian converts), sexual orientation, and ethnicity.  We 
will continue to monitor the situation and will re-engage 
with UNHCR and ICMC in late August/early September, after 
UNHCR has had an opportunity to conduct more detailed 
interviews with recent Iranian asylum-seekers.  End summary. 
 
2.  (SBU) Following up on ref B and C accounts of whether 
regional UHNCR offices are seeing a post-election surge of 
Iranian asylum-seekers, we met July 22 in Istanbul with 
representatives from the International Catholic Migration 
Commission (the USG's overseas processing entity for refugees 
in Turkey to be resettled in the U.S.), and on July 24 with 
UNHCR representatives in Ankara. 
 
UHNCR:  Too soon to assess a post-election refugee uptick 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
 
3.  (SBU) UNHCR representatives Annika Sundland, Brenda 
Goddard, and Akif Atli told ConGen Istanbul's Iran Watcher 
and Embassy Ankara poloff that UNHCR shares the USG's concern 
about the possibility of a surge in Iranian asylum seekers 
coming to Turkey if the post-election crackdown on 
demonstrators continues.  UNHCR Ankara has a contingency plan 
to divert limited spare resources to processing Iranian 
cases, although its greatest limitation is in Farsi 
interpreters; Sundland acknowledged UNHCR does not have 
enough Farsi interpreters to handle a significant sustained 
increase in Iranian refugee applications. Given what appears 
to be a forced calm currently prevailing in Iran, however, 
UNHCR does not expect a massive influx of Iranian political 
asylum seekers in the near term.  UNHCR representatives told 
us that there are early indications, based on initial 
registration interviews, of an increased number of political 
asylum seekers, but UNHCR believes it is too soon to tell how 
significant a trend it is. 
 
4.  (SBU) When an Iranian asylum-seeker in Turkey first 
contacts UNHCR to register, UNHCR takes down initial case 
information but only conducts a full "refugee status 
determination" (RSD) interview three to five months later. 
UNHCR officials said they are seeing more cases, at the 
initial registration stage, of Iranians claiming that their 
participation in post-election protests puts them at grave 
risk of persecution by Iranian authorities, especially if 
they believe their faces were filmed or their names are known 
to the regime.  UNHCR expects to have a more detailed picture 
of numbers of such cases when the asylum seekers return to 
UNHCR for RSD interviews in the next few months.  Whether 
UNHCR grants refugee status to such applicants will depend in 
part on how the Iranian legal system proceeds with handling 
of peaceful protesters who have been detained and/or charged 
with crimes, a question UNHCR is examining closely. 
 
5.  (SBU) A snapshot of UNHCR Turkey's current Iranian 
caseload:  According to UNHCR's figures as of July 10, 2009, 
the majority of Iranian asylum-seekers in Turkey continue to 
based on religion (Bahai and Christian converts), based on 
persecuted sexual orientation, and based on ethnic 
persecution (Kurds).  A minority of cases in Turkey are based 
on fear of political persecution.  There are currently 4070 
Iranians registered with UNHCR in Turkey, making up about 23 
percent of UNHCR Turkey's total caseload (UNHCR is also 
handling some 8,000 Iraqi and 3,200 Afghan cases).  By ethnic 
breakdown, Iranian cases include some 1900 Persians, 1400 
Kurds, 420 Azeris, 50 Ahwaz Arabs, and smaller numbers of 
Assyrian-Iranians, Lor, Baluch, and Gilani.  By religious 
 
ISTANBUL 00000287  002 OF 003 
 
 
breakdown, Iranian cases include almost 2000 Muslims, 1160 
Bahai, 480 Christians, 360 "no religion", and 130 "other". 
 
6.  (SBU) Of the 4070, around 500 are currently awaiting 
onward resettlement to the U.S., Canada, Australia, and 
Sweden.  Goddard noted that those refugees selected for 
resettlement to Canada or Australia unfortunately must wait 
until 2010, as Canada's and Australia's annual quotas for 
refugees from Turkey (400 for each country) have already been 
reached this year.  Sundland said UHNCR is grateful to the 
USG for accepting by far the largest number of refugees, and 
for providing the bulk of UNHCR's funding.  (UNHCR Turkey has 
a staff of 66 and a 2009 operating budget of USD 7.85 
million.)  Sundland, however, offered a gentle plea, both to 
the USG and to other accepting countries, to raise the 
numbers of refugees they are willing to accept annually. 
 
7.  (SBU) Goddard and Sundland underscored the challenges 
facing Iranian asylum-seekers who come to Turkey.  Because 
Turkey does not formally recognize non-European refugees, 
Iranians who have been accepted by the UNHCR as refugees may 
only stay in Turkey until UNHCR can resettle them elsewhere. 
Turkey does not always separate out asylum seekers entering 
illegally from migrants entering illegally, and often denies 
UNHCR access to them before deporting them (Turkey considers 
asylum requests coming from detained Iranians to have been 
made "in bad faith").  Turkey usually rejects refugee 
applications from Iranians who entered Turkey via a third 
country (e.g., Iraq), arguing they should have sought 
protection there first.  Turkey also looks less favorably on 
Iranian asylum requests made by Iranians in Istanbul or 
western Turkey, as the GOT believes they should have 
registered immediately on entering Turkey.  For those 
Iranians who present themselves to register with UNHCR, the 
registration and status determination process is long and 
cumbersome, as described in Ref A.  Once registered, Iranian 
asylum-seekers are assigned by the GOT to live in a 
"satellite city", usually in eastern or central Turkey, far 
from Ankara, Istanbul, and Izmir.  (Currently, 833 Iranians 
live in Kayseri; 789 Iranians are in Van; 614 Iranians are in 
Nevsehir; 280 Iranians are in Nigde; 274 Iranians are in 
Afyon, etc.) 
 
8.  (SBU) After registration and an RSD interview, 
asylum-seekers usually wait up to one year for a decision on 
their status.  Those who qualify for refugee status usually 
wait another one to three years for onward resettlement. 
During this time, conditions are difficult.  Receiving 
permission from the GOT to work legally almost impossible 
(UNHCR has a record of only one refugee successfully 
obtaining a work permit).  Housing is not provided.  Only 
very limited social services are provided.  Moreover, all 
asylum-seekers and refugees must pay the Interior Ministry a 
biannual residency fee of several hundred dollars each for 
every family member (including children).  Turkey will not 
grant an exit permit for eventual departure without proof of 
payment.  As Sundland noted, these conditions serve as a 
disincentive, whether intentionally or not, to Iranians 
considering coming to Turkey to seek asylum. 
 
ICMC:  "We could cope with a short surge" 
------------------------------------ 
 
9.  (SBU) ICMC representatives Linda Samarzdic, Meliha 
Hasanbegovic, and Damir Thaqi told ConGen Istanbul's Iran 
Watcher and ConGen Istanbul conoff that because ICMC's role 
is to help resettle Iranian refugees that the UNHCR has 
designated for resettlement to the US, ICMC faces a longer 
"time lag" than UNHCR in its ability to gauge a possible 
recent uptick in Iranian political asylum cases.  Tracking 
what we heard from UNHCR, ICMC's current Iranian caseload is 
made up primarily of Bahais, Christian converts, and the 
Iranian lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual (LGBT) community. 
ICMC cannot assess yet whether a surge of Iranian political 
asylum seekers fleeing post-election persecution will add to 
its caseload, but in the event it did, "we could cope with a 
surge for a short period of time."  Like UNHCR, ICMC's 
greatest need, in the event of a surge in Iranian cases, 
would be for Farsi interpreters. 
 
10.  (SBU) Samarzdic told us there is currently a group of 15 
Iranian political asylum-seekers (comment: according to UNHCR 
documentation, most of them are "ex-PMOI" members, aka MEK 
members) who the Interior Ministry has detained at a separate 
detention facility in Kirklareli.  Turkey will not allow 
UNHCR or ICMC to interview them.  The Interior Ministry was 
poised to deport them, but in almost all of their cases the 
European Court of Human Rights issued a stay of deportation 
in 2008, so they remain in detention.  Many have been 
 
ISTANBUL 00000287  003 OF 003 
 
 
rejected by third countries onward resettlement, while others 
still await the possibility of onward resettlement. 
 
11. (SBU) Samarzdic told us ICMC processed 862 Iranians for 
onward resettlement to the U.S. from Turkey during the first 
half of 2009, of whom 749 have moved to the U.S.  The next 
tranche of Iranian refugees for onward U.S. resettlement, 
about 400, will be interviewed by visiting DHS/CIS officials 
next month. 
 
12.  (SBU) ICMC has noticed a relative decline in the numbers 
of Iranian Bahai being processed for US resettlement in 2009. 
 Samarzdic asked whether the USG was aware of any decision by 
the Bahai leadership either in Iran or in Europe to limit the 
numbers of Bahai community members leaving Iran this year for 
onward resettlement, perhaps as a result of the May 2008 
detention and potential death-penalty charges against seven 
Iranian Bahai community leaders.  We told ICMC that we were 
unaware of any decision by Bahai community leaders to limit 
the number of Bahai asylum seekers leaving Iran. 
 
Comment 
----- 
 
13.  (C) Consistent with Ref B and C assessments, our 
discussions with UNHCR and ICMC indicate that neither 
organization has seen a significant surge, yet, of Iranians 
escaping to Turkey to request asylum or refugee status as a 
result of the post-election crackdown in Iran.  Anecdotally, 
ConGen Istanbul has seen what appears to be a rise, based on 
the numbers of calls or emails from, and walk-in encounters 
at post with, Iranians claiming to have been beaten or 
persecuted as a result of their participation on 
post-election peaceful demonstrations (septel).  We thus will 
continue to monitor the situation, and will re-engage with 
UNHCR and ICMC on this issue in late August/early September, 
after UNHCR has had an opportunity to conduct more detailed 
interviews with recent Iranian asylum-seekers.  End comment. 
WIENER

 



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