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Supporting Iranian Human Rights Defenders for Resettlement in Canada

On March 8, 2024, the independent international Fact-Finding Mission on the Islamic Republic of Iran (FFMI) released its first report, uncovering severe human rights violations committed by the Iranian government since the start of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" protests in September 2022.


The mission calls on the Iranian authorities to provide justice, truth and reparations to victims of human rights violations in connection with the protests that started on 16 September 2022, survivors and their families, in accordance with international human rights standards. In the light of the pervasive impunity and structural discrimination inside the country, Member States should explore avenues for international and domestic accountability outside the country, together with providing transformative reparations for victims, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction (for example, commemorations and tributes to victims) and guarantees of non-repetition. In that context, Member States should grant asylum and humanitarian visas, and provide medical and other life-saving assistance, to victims, including those fleeing persecution for their involvement in or defense of human rights in the context of the protests in the Islamic Republic


Refugees in Turkey are usually referred to three countries for resettlement by the United Nations, namely: 1. The United States 2. Canada 3. Australia. This process has been affected by regional events (Middle East) since around 2015, and the priority of host countries, especially Canada, for resettlement has changed. So much so that in the years 2015 and 2016, the United Nations announced to Iranian refugees who had even received asylum from Canada that they must change their country as Canada does not accept their files. Since then, this process has continued, and Iranian refugees have had no opportunity. Overall, for years, these refugees in Turkey and other countries have been waiting for a safe country under very difficult conditions, although regional conditions have changed. We hope that the acceptance process by the Canadian government will change, and like in the past, Iranian refugees will also have the opportunity to benefit from Canada's resettlement program.


In 2018, the situation deteriorated further with the closure of the UNHCR office in Turkey, transferring refugee processing and interviews to Turkish immigration police. Their subjective and often discriminatory practices have resulted in the rejection of 80% of Iranian refugee applications, leaving many at high risk of deportation. 


The FFMI report calls upon Iranian authorities to ensure justice and reparations for those harmed in connection with protests and demands accountability for human rights violations. It also implores member states to grant asylum and humanitarian visas to those fleeing persecution.


In recent years, especially in recent months, we have witnessed a sharp increase in deportations by the Turkish immigration authorities and police. Many cases of suicide have occurred among refugees fearing deportation and uncertain fate upon returning to the Islamic Republic of Iran, preferring death over going back. 

  • Sanaz Jalili, a 37-year-old Iranian refugee, after waiting for 7 years in Turkey and receiving approval from the United Nations, was rejected by the Turkish police and faced deportation, leading her to commit suicide upon hearing the news. 

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  • Exactly on April 27th, 2024, Aileen Kermiar, a 17-year-old Iranian refugee, committed suicide after being rejected in an interview by the Turkish police and facing deportation to Iran, resulting in severe physical injuries to her legs and waist.

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In March 2023, Hiva, a transgender woman, after 5 years of waiting and repeated follow-ups with the United Nations, still found herself in uncertain conditions. She committed suicide after her application was rejected by the Turkish immigration authorities, fearing deportation to Iran. These are just a few tragic examples of what is happening in Turkey, where many Iranian refugees are at risk of deportation to Iran, unfortunately, their voices often go unheard, and these refugees never get to taste the freedom and life they sought.

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Key Challenges Facing Iranian Refugees:

Deportation Threats: Political refugees remain at risk of deportation due to Turkish police collaboration with the Iranian regime.


Work Restrictions: Without work permits, many face the threat of deportation if caught working by Turkish authorities.


Healthcare Barriers: The cessation of healthcare insurance has left refugees without access to essential medical treatment, particularly affecting those with specific health needs.


Travel Limitations: Refugees cannot leave their assigned cities, effectively trapping them within restricted areas.

Growing Hostility: Increasing opposition among Turkish citizens to the presence of refugees has led to housing discrimination, leaving many homeless or vulnerable.

We call on the Canadian Parliament to uphold our nation's values of fairness and compassion by prioritizing the resettlement of vulnerable Iranian refugees. Let us offer them protection and assistance, and stand by those fighting for human rights and freedom.

  • Increasing the Cap for Human Rights Defenders Refugee Intake: The Government of Canada should increase the cap for the intake of human rights defenders seeking refuge. Recent actions by the Turkish government, including voiding permits and attempting to deport activists to Iran where they face execution, have placed these individuals in imminent danger. By expanding the refugee intake cap specifically for activists at risk, Canada can provide lifesaving protection to those most vulnerable to persecution.

  • Special Consideration for Local Settlement Organizations: It could be of great benefit if a special consideration could be in place for local settlement organizations to be designated as Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH) with the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). This designation would empower these organizations to nominate refugee claimants and facilitate their resettlement in Canada. By granting SAH status to local organizations, Canada can enhance community-based support for refugees and expedite their integration into Canadian society.

  • Expedited Application Evaluation Process in Turkey: Canada must expedite the application evaluation process for refugees in Turkey to prevent deportations and ensure timely resettlement arrangements. Given the heightened risk faced by Iranian refugees in Turkey, delays in processing applications could result in serious harm or even loss of life. By expediting evaluations, Canada can uphold its commitment to protecting refugees and providing a lifeline to those in urgent need of resettlement.

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