What are the primary challenges facing Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey?

What are the primary challenges facing Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey?

Uncertainty and procedural inconsistencies:

Many refugees in Turkey suffer from a lack of clarity regarding their application procedure, and a clear timeline within which their claims will be processed. As per the law, an in-person interview should normally be conducted within 30 days from the date of registration and, the assessment of the application should be finalised no later than six months after the date of registration by the Presidency of Migration Management (PMM). However, many asylum-seekers have been waiting for their in-person interviews or the final outcome of their application assessment for years, and have no clear idea when this process may be completed. The refugee waits – often for many years – to be summoned for an interview, which can last several hours. The aim of the interview is to assess the claims of the refugee and establish if there were genuine reasons for them to leave their country of origin, and whether they have “a well-founded fear of persecution” on religious grounds should they be returned. A translator is present during the refugee status determination (RSD) interview, as well as an interviewer, but several interviewees have criticised the procedure, claiming that their Turkish interviewer lacked understanding about evangelical Christianity and the oppression experienced by adherents in Iran. Some also said their faith and conversion were ridiculed, raising the question of whether a religiously inclined Muslim interviewer can objectively assess the refugee claim of someone they regard as an apostate.

Lack of work and exploitation:

According to the Turkish Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Çalışma ve Sosyal Güvenlik Bakanlığı), asylum-seekers are eligible to obtain a work permit six months after registration, and those with refugee status do not require any special permit to work. However, refugees are a cheap source of labour, and employers are often unwilling to register them legally and be obliged to pay additional costs for social insurance, etc. Refugee workers are thus left with little option but to take on illegal work, most commonly as factory workers or on construction sites. This informal and illegal arrangement leaves them vulnerable to exploitation: their employment can be terminated without notice, wages withheld, and their employers are not liable for work-related injuries. Meanwhile, employers are required to employ a minimum of five Turkish nationals in the workplace for every one foreign national (the “1:5 rule”), which unfortunately leads many employers to refrain from employing foreign nationals and to prefer Turkish nationals.

The right to access public healthcare services:

In 2020, the Turkish government restricted its health-insurance provision to one year following registration, compelling refugees to resort to private healthcare if they have the resources, or to forgo healthcare altogether. Cultural and language barriers are another complication, as well as a lack of information about the Turkish healthcare system.


A strong Turkish nationalist Islamist movement has arisen, capable of violent actions against those seen as apostates and enemies of the state. Meanwhile, the initial warm reception granted to Syrian refugees and others, including those from Iran seeking international protection, is being replaced by a growing hostility.

Children’s welfare and education:

The children of refugees have access to state education, but language issues and reported discrimination – on both ethnic and religious grounds – have meant that many children, including Iranian Christians, have been left without opportunities for education.

Threat of deportation:

Since 2018, when the Turkish authorities began processing refugee claims instead of the UNHCR, it is noticeable that many Iranian Christians with credible claims for international protection have been rejected. The threat of deportation aggravates the trauma already felt by refugees.

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