Iranian & Iraqi refugees in Turkey

Source: ICMC Europe, Welcome to Europe! A comprehensive guide to resettlement, 2013

Iraqi and Iranian refugees continue to form the largest refugee groups in Turkey. Many originally crossed into Turkey in the 1980s, fleeing authoritarian regimes and conflict including the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Iran-Iraq War and the subsequent 1991 Gulf War.

Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Turkish government took specific measures to prevent the movement of Iraqi refugees into Turkey, and so did not experience the same increase in Iraqi arrivals as other countries in the region. However, their numbers have significantly increased since 2011 due to the worsening security situation in Syria. By 1 January 2014, Iraqi and Iranian refugee populations in Turkey registered with UNHCR amounted to 13,467 and 3,321 persons, respectively. For both Iranian and Iraqi refugees, ongoing civil and political instability both in the region and in their specific countries of origin means voluntary repatriation is very rarely a viable durable solution.

While Turkey is a signatory to the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol, it maintains the Convention’s ‘geographical limitation’, meaning only Europeans can be considered as refugees. Non-European refugees (mostly Iraqis, Iranians, Afghans and Somalis) are granted ‘temporary asylum seeker status,’ and UNHCR is responsible for their registration, RSD, as well as for finding durable solutions. To date, the only exception is the temporary protection granted to Syrian nationals seeking international protection, who began arriving in June 2011.

The Turkish government recently adopted a new migration and asylum law which will strengthen refugee protection, while not lifting the geographical limitation.

The lack of legal recognition of non-European refugees and their exclusion from mainstream legal processes and services means resettlement is the only available durable solution for Iranian and Iraqi refugees in Turkey.

UNHCR has projected a total resettlement need amongst Iranian and Iraqi refugees of 18,600 persons – 13,710 Iraqi refugees and 4,890 Iranian refugees – and plans to submit 4,650 Iraqi refugees and 2,650 Iranian refugees in 2014. Resettlement will continue to be used strategically in Turkey to enhance the protection space for all refugees and it will continue to be the main durable solution available to non-European refugees in 2013.

The US has historically accepted the majority of Iranian and Iraqi refugees resettled from Turkey. In 2011, for example, 67% of departures travelled to the US. Canada, Australia and Norway have traditionally offered resettlement places specifically for Iranians and Iraqis from Turkey; while in Europe, Finland, Germany, and Norway have resettled refugees from Turkey, and France, the Netherlands, Portugal and the UK occasionally consider a small number of cases for resettlement.