This page has been created to help provide refugees, and those who support them, with information regarding the situation of Iranian Christian refugees - their rights, challenges, and primary needs.

  • We focus on the situation in Turkey, as this is the place where the vast majority of Iranian Christians go after fleeing Iran.
  • We are of course aware that some Iranian Christian refugees also end up in different countries - such as Armenia or Greece - and hope the information provided here can also be of use in that context.

 

For a further overview of the situation of Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey, please see our recent report, The Plight of Iranian Christians Claiming International Protection in Türkiye.

Background

Iran stands as one of the world's most notorious persecutors of Christians, consistently topping global watchlists for its violations of religious freedom. In this nation, Persian-speaking Christians find no sanctuary, prohibited from accessing the churches of Armenians and Assyrians and threatened with a decade behind bars for merely worshipping together in their own homes. Following arrest and imprisonment, many Christians flee their homeland and find fleeting refuge in neighbouring countries like Turkey, only to be met with further challenges—denied basic rights and facing the looming threat of deportation. With years spent in limbo, dreams deferred, and children's futures uncertain, these families yearn for a safe haven. Yet, hope remains. The global community has the means to help, and we hope to be able to play our part in connecting those with means with the refugees in desperate need.

What rights do refugees have in Turkey?

Asylum-seekers and refugees in Turkey have several rights and obligations under the The Law on Foreigners and International Protection (LFIP), such as:

  • Right to non-refoulement: No-one shall be sent back to a country where they face persecution, torture, or inhuman treatment. Turkey cannot send anyone back to a country where they might face serious danger, such as persecution based on one’s race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership of a specific social group. This also includes protection from torture or inhuman treatment.
  • Right to access basic services: This includes access to education, healthcare, and social assistance.
    • Education: Asylum-seekers and refugees and their children have the right to access primary and secondary education in Turkey. They can also participate in vocational training courses and higher education, subject to certain requirements.
    • Healthcare: They also have the right to access public healthcare services in Turkey, including emergency care, routine healthcare, and maternal and child healthcare.
    • Right to temporary accommodation: Asylum-seekers and refugees are provided with temporary accommodation in reception and accommodation centres while their initial applications are processed. These centres offer shelter, food, and basic services to help refugees adjust to life in Turkey. 
    • Social assistance: Depending on refugees’ circumstances, they may be eligible for social assistance programmes, such as cash assistance, food, clothing, and other support provided by the government or NGOs.
  • Right to work: The right to work for refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey is guaranteed under Article 89, which allows refugees and asylum-seekers to apply for a work permit issued by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The application must include the following documents:
  1. A valid residence permit
  2. A valid passport
  3. A job offer or contract from a Turkish employer
  4. A tax identification number (Vergi Kimlik Numarası)

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

Iranian Christian refugees face numerous challenges, ranging from uncertainty in the asylum process, to issues related to employment, access to medical services, social discrimination, and the threat of deportation. These challenges not only affect their daily lives but also jeopardise their future. By clicking on the link below, you can read more about the main challenges faced by Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey.

Recommendations

We have made the following recommendations to the UNHCR, Turkish authorities and refugee-receiving governments:

  • The Turkish immigration authorities should clarify the application procedure, providing a timeline within which claims will be processed, and undertake and illustrate due diligence in assessing refugee claims, including those of Iranian Christians;
  • Turkey should provide access to basic healthcare beyond the first year of registration for protection, and regulate and facilitate employment opportunities for refugees, thereby ending exploitation in the workplace;
  • Refugee-receiving governments should provide resettlement opportunities and develop sponsorship programmes to expedite the resettlement process for Iranian Christians and other refugees in Turkey.
  • The UNHCR must ensure the resettlement process is transparent, and intervene swiftly to assist refugees and asylum-seekers who are in imminent danger of refoulement;

FAQ

Can non-governmental organisations and institutions change the living conditions of Persian-speaking Christian refugees and asylum seekers?

Various organisations and NGOs provide support to refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey. These organisations can offer legal advice, help with the asylum application process, and provide assistance in accessing basic services. Some of these organisations include:

  • UNHCR Turkey: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) works closely with the Turkish government to provide support and protection to refugees and asylum-seekers in the country.
  • ASAM: The Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants (ASAM) is a prominent NGO in Turkey that offers various services such as legal counselling, psychological support, and social assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers.
  • Refugee Rights Turkey: Refugee Rights Turkey is an independent NGO that provides legal assistance, information, and guidance to refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey.
  • Social assistance: Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for social assistance programmes, such as cash assistance, food, clothing, and other support provided by the government or NGOs.
CAN HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANISATIONS, E.G. ARTICLE18, OR OTHER NGOS PROVIDE SPONSORS AND FACILITATE RESETTLEMENT?

While it is the responsibility of the UNHCR or Turkish authorities to assess asylum claims, NGOs such as Article18 can help to provide letters of recommendation regarding resettlement in cases where an individual’s rights violations in Iran are well-documented. If you would like to be considered for this provision, please fill out our “Report an Incident” form.

For more information about “How do I know if I have a resettlement case?” and “Who makes the final decision on my case for resettlement?” please visit this link.

I have been recognised by the UNHCR as a refugee, can the Turkish government ignore the UNHCR’s decision and issue my deportation?

States establish their own procedures of how to examine and determine the status of asylum applications. In countries where there is a national asylum procedure, including Turkey, the UNHCR is not primarily responsible but may offer advice and technical support. The UNHCR will only assume responsibility when a state is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or does not have a fair and efficient national asylum procedure in place.

The immigration services in my host country claim that there is no persecution of Christians in Iran, how do I respond to that?

Direct them to Article18’s website for documented rights violations against Christians in Iran, including our latest annual report.

Can Article18 help me if I wasn’t persecuted in Iran but am an Iranian Christian who fears persecution if deported back to Iran?

Article18 is unable to provide individual support to those without documentation regarding the rights violations they experienced inside Iran. However, we hope that our reports can provide assistance for asylum-seekers and their lawyers looking to prove that Christians in Iran are at real risk of persecution - a fact accepted by the UK’s Home Office, among others.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Traditionally, many refugees have been relocated to safe countries through the UN mechanism, but this system has been paused in the past few years, and now only a small percentage of those relocated are Iranians, and an even smaller percentage are Iranian Christians.

This means that there are few clear prospects for these Christians to be relocated. But one of the very few options available for them is to be accepted with a refugee-sponsorship visa to a country like Canada. The United States also recently created a similar scheme, based on the Canadian model.

In Canada, an organisation, charity or group of individuals can apply to become a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH). Once they have this licence, the SAH can sponsor refugees for the first year of their relocation to Canada, which means providing for their housing and other expenses while they learn the language and are familiarised with their new context.

ADOPT A PERSECUTED REFUGEE

Below are a few examples of Iranian Christian refugees currently stuck in Turkey, whose cases Article18 has documented. Article18 has been asked to advocate for these individuals, and would love to invite you to consider “adopting” one of them - and committing to pray for them, write to them, and seek to support them in their resettlement journey.

Coming Soon

IMPACT STORIES

LATEST NEWS AND UPDATES

Reports & Resources

The Plight of Iranian Christians Claiming International Protection in Türkiye

Closed Doors – Persecuted Christians and the US Refugee Resettlement and Asylum Processes

Sponsoring a refugee in Canada