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UNHCR deeply concerned about Ahwazi refugees in Syria

Briefing notes

UNHCR deeply concerned about Ahwazi refugees in Syria

15 September 2006

UNHCR is deeply concerned about the fate of three Ahwazi refugees (Iranian Arabs) in Syria. The three men were arrested by Syrian authorities last May in Damascus and have been detained since that time. Prior to their detention, they had been recognized as refugees by UNHCR under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and have been accepted for resettlement in Western European countries.

We have been in regular contact with Syrian authorities in Damascus as well as in Geneva to discuss the situation of the three men. Our staff have been promised several times that they be able to meet with the three detainees, but so far we have had no access despite numerous requests.

We are appealing for the immediate release of the three Ahwazi. We are also calling on the Syrian authorities to refrain from extraditing the three refugees to Iran, and instead to allow their departure to their countries of resettlement.

Deportation of recognized refugees represents a 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. It is also embodied in Article 3 of the 1984 Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Syria is a party

We are all the more concerned about these three detained refugees following Syria's previous extradition to Iran of an Arab-Iranian Ahwazi last May. This refugee had been recognized under UNHCR's mandate at the end of 2005 and had been accepted for resettlement to a third country. Nevertheless, he was arrested in March and detained by the Syrian authorities until his extradition to Iran, where he is reportedly detained.

Ahwazi refugees arrived from Iran in Syria and Iraq at various times, most recently in 2005 following a confrontation between members of the Ahwazi community and government forces in the Ahwaz region.