UNHCR deplores forced return of refugee by Azerbaijan

Briefing Notes, 14 November 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 14 November 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR deplores the forced return to Turkey by Azerbaijan authorities of a refugee recognised under the 1951 UN refugee convention. The refugee, a Turkish citizen of Kurdish ethnicity who had been granted refugee status in 1999 in Germany, was forcibly returned to Turkey on 13 October, 2006. She had spent the last two years in detention in Azerbaijan, initially and briefly on charges of illegal entry into the country, and subsequently on the grounds of an extradition request by a court in Istanbul. She was extradited despite UNHCR's and the Government of Germany's repeated interventions on her behalf to the Government of Azerbaijan.

Upon learning of her reported extradition to Turkey, UNHCR sought clarification of the circumstances surrounding the decision of the Government of Azerbaijan but received only a limited explanation. In the absence of indications justifying this decision, UNHCR considers her forced return to Turkey to be contrary to Azerbaijan's obligations under the 1951 UN refugee convention and a clear violation of the principle of non-refoulement. This principle of customary international law prohibits states from returning a refugee or asylum seeker to territories where there is a risk that his or her life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

UNHCR is seeking assurances from the Government of Azerbaijan that refugees and asylum seekers from any country will in future be treated with full respect of Azerbaijan's international and national legal obligations concerning refugees and asylum seekers.

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Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

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