TURKEY: New report highlights plight of Iranian Christian refugees

Turkey-Report-CoverA joint report published on World Refugee Day (20 June) by Article 18 in collaboration with Open Doors, CSW and Middle East Concern concludes that there is a “critical need” for Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey to be given new resettlement opportunities and sponsorship programmes. In January, Article 18 had reported that asylum-seeker families in Turkey had been arrested and detained in “removal centres”, where they have been threatened with deportation.

The new report, which includes dozens of personal testimonies, states that most Iranian Christian refugees in Türkiye are living in survival mode, overwhelmed by concerns about their precarious living conditions, with no stable jobs or income, and at risk of deportation if the Turkish authorities choose to cancel their residency permits.” 

Shadi Noveiri GilaniThe precarious nature of life for Iranian Christian refugees is summarised by Shadi Noveiri Gilani (pictured), a young Christian woman, who is quoted as saying, “I live in uncertainty in Türkiye as they don’t give me any rights as a refugee, and they still haven’t interviewed me after seven years.”

In 2022 there were 3.7 million refugees in Turkey, which means the country receives more than 11% of refugees worldwide. The report explores questions such as what drives Christians to flee Iran, why Turkey is a preferred first destination and what challenges Iranian Christian families face after their arrival. It also delves deeper into the areas of employment, health and education, where refugees face massive challenges, and highlights the discrimination, racism, threat of deportation and psychological pressures Iranian asylum seekers endure in Turkey.

Iman Ghaznavian HaghighiIman Ghaznavian Haghighi, who was recently resettled in Canada after many years, described his time in Turkey as follows: “The Turkish government, they give you an ID card, but it’s just a piece of paper, and you are even shy to show it to anybody. You cannot even rent an apartment; you cannot do anything – no bank account, nothing. You have a paper to just stay here and wait to go to the third country that is accepting refugees and can accept you as a citizen. You don’t have any identity; no work; you need to work, but you can only work illegally, and I don’t know how it looks for a Christian to work illegally. It’s not about people looking for a better life. We want to have just basic things. If they accepted us as citizens, for sure we would stay here and we would be happy, because it is a culture near to ours.”

The report concludes with following recommendations:

  • Turkey to provide access to basic healthcare beyond the first year of registration for protection, and to regulate and facilitate employment opportunities for refugees, thereby ending exploitation in the workplace;
  • the Turkish immigration authorities to clarify the application procedure, providing a timeline within which claims will be processed, and to undertake and illustrate due diligence in assessing refugee claims, including those of Iranian Christians;
  • the UNHCR to ensure the resettlement process is transparent, and to intervene swiftly to assist refugees and asylum-seekers who are in imminent danger of refoulement;
  • refugee-receiving governments to provide resettlement opportunities and develop sponsorship programmes to expedite the resettlement process for Iranian Christians and other refugees in Turkey.

Download report here