Christian convert recognised as refugee, can’t be sent back to Iran

Christian convert recognised as refugee, can’t be sent back to Iran

Bigan Farokhpour Haghighi with his wife, Marzieh, and their 17-year-old son Sina.

An Iranian Christian convert who was facing the threat of imminent deportation from Turkey has been granted protected status as a recognised refugee.

Bigan Farokhpour Haghighi, who will celebrate his 49th birthday on Sunday, was yesterday released after more than a month’s detention in a camp in the southern Turkish city of Antalya, from which it was feared he would be forcibly flown back to Iran.

But yesterday the asylum-seeker was informed that he had been granted protected status, following his interview with immigration officials the day before, and this morning he received his new identity card, confirming his new status as a refugee.

In coming to this decision, the Turkish immigration authorities stated that they recognised Bigan’s life could be in danger were he to return to Iran.

Bigan has previously spent nine months in prison because of his conversion to Christianity and subsequent membership of a house-church, for which he was sentenced to three years in prison

He has been in Turkey since 2018, when he, his wife Marzieh, and their 17-year-old son, Sina, who is a paraplegic, applied for asylum with the UNHCR.

They have since been based in Denizli, 220km northwest of Antalya, but in December 2019 Bigan was told he was to be deported because of an alleged failure to sign in at his local police station for three consecutive months. 

Bigan denied the claims and even asked the officials to check the cameras on the dates he had attended, but they refused and his three subsequent appeals were rejected – including, most recently, by Turkey’s Supreme Court.

A month after the deportation order, Bigan told the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center that he had only been released from prison on the condition he never returned.

“You have to leave Iran or we will arrest you again,” Bigan was told. “… We know your family is in Turkey. We even know which city they’re in. We know all this. If you leave the country, you won’t have a problem, but if you stay and make a mistake, we will sentence you to prison many times over. Let this be a reminder! We accept your conditional release on these terms! Sign it!” 

In the same interview, Bigan said he was scared of what may happen to his wife and paraplegic son were he to be deported.

For the last month, he has been separated from them, and fearing deportation any day. Now, he can finally return home to be reunited with them and celebrate his birthday together on Sunday.

One new challenge has arisen, however; though his family reside in Denizli, Bigan has been told he must make the three-hour trip to Antalya every month to renew his refugee permit. But, for now, he and his family are counting their blessings.

Bigan and Marzieh told Article18 simply: “We thank all the people who have cared for us at this difficult time, and praise God for them.”

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