Iranian refugees fear deportation, surveillance in Turkey

Iranian refugees in Turkey increasingly fear deportation after the Turkish authorities arrested an Iranian anti-hijab activist and planned to send her to Iran, where she could have faced execution, Voice of America said on Monday.

“Lacking legal protections conferred by the refugee status, Iranians live under constant fear of deportation as their fate depends on the ups and downs of bilateral relations between Tehran and Ankara,” said Aykan Erdemir, director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a former Turkish parliamentarian, according to VOA.

Maryam Shariatmadari, who participated in demonstrations in Iran in 2018 against the compulsory wearing of the hijab, was arrested by the Turkish authorities on Sept. 7 because of an expired residency permit, and she was transferred to migration authority officials for deportation, prompting a widespread social media campaign by several Iranian and Turkish activists against her deportation.

She fled the Islamic Republic in 2018 after the authorities briefly detained her for participating in the anti-hijab protest.

Iranian refugees are also deeply concerned about Tehran’s alleged surveillance activities in Turkey since the agreement between the countries allows Iranians to travel in Turkey for 90 days without a visa, VOA said.

“The lack of a visa requirement permits members of Iranian intelligence to enter Turkey using their ordinary passports instead of having to show their official ones. This enables the Quds Force, an elite foreign operations unit of the Revolutionary Guards to increase their activities in Turkey,” said Savash Porgham, an Istanbul-based journalist specialising in Iranian politics.

Besides the growing fear of deportation by the Turkish authorities, Iranian refugees say Iranian agents are freely operating in Turkey, putting pressure on refugees without intervention from Turkish authorities, according to VOA.

“The fear and insecurity are growing day by day, and I can feel the shadow of plain-clothed Iranian agents over my head who wander among us in the gloomy streets of Van and do whatever they want to us from harassing to kidnapping,” said Raha, who declined to give her last name out of concern for her security.