Iran not safe for asylum seekers. No deportations!

Iran not safe for asylum seekers.  No deportations!

When Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop visited Iran in April 2015,  she tried to persuade the Iranian government to accept the involuntary return of asylum seekers whose claims for refugee status have been rejected.  The Iranian government did not immediately agree to Bishop’s request, but this could change in the future. The Australian government is offering Iran various incentives as part of a proposed Memorandum of Understanding.

If such an agreement was reached, those sent back would be in danger of persecution.   But even without an agreement, the Australian government has been pressuring Iranian asylum seekers to return “voluntarily”.  Many of them have been kept for years in detention.  Others have been allowed out into the community on bridging visas, but then re-detained.  Some have been told:  “You go back to your country or you stay in detention forever”. This has resulted in a series of hunger strikes by Iranian asylum seekers.


Human rights violations in Iran

The Iranian government is highly repressive.  People in Iran are victimized for their political or religious opinions, their ethnicity, or because they are workers fighting for their rights. (In May 2014 Bishop herself spoke of “deep concerns at the ongoing human rights abuses in Iran”.)

Religious minorities such as Baha’is are persecuted.  At least 136 Baha’is were held in Iran’s prisons as of May 2014 (1).  Sunni Muslims and Sufis are also discriminated against, as are Muslims who convert to Christianity.  Ethnic minorities such as Kurds, Azeris, Arabs and Baluchs suffer discrimination and repression.

Workers are not allowed to form independent unions. Many have been arrested and tortured for demanding better pay and conditions.

Women in Iran are treated as second class citizens. Only men are allowed to initiate divorce. Women must get the permission of a male relative in order to travel. They are compelled to wear the hijab. They are subject to harassment in workplaces and schools and in the street.

Under Iranian law, many crimes are punishable by death, including insulting the Prophet, apostasy, same-sex relations, adultery and drug-related offences.  According to Amnesty International, at least 743 prisoners were executed in 2014 (2).    The government says most of those executed are drug dealers or foreign agents, but actually many are political prisoners.



The current Iranian regime, which calls itself Islamic, came to power after the fall of the brutal US-backed dictatorship of the Shah in 1979.  Diverse forces, including leftists and Islamists, participated in the revolution. For two or three years there was an open atmosphere in which political parties were able to emerge from illegality. New magazines were published. Workers councils and unions were formed. The workers controlled the factories, students controlled the campuses and local committees controlled the suburbs.

But after 1982 the new regime arrested or killed many people in the universities and workplaces. Thousands were executed. Many parties were completely destroyed.


The situation today

Most of the Iranian people are living in poverty, despite Iran’s huge oil wealth. In part this is due to US economic sanctions.  But it is also partly due to Iranian involvement in the wars in Iraq and Syria. The money spent on war diverts resources away from the Iranian people.  Corruption also helps to impoverish the people.

Despite the repression, people never stopped protesting.  In 2015 there have been a series of protests by teachers and students all over Iran. The teachers are demanding a pay rise, health insurance, equal pay for men and women, and better conditions for teaching.  There were also rallies on International Womens Day and May Day.

But those who participate in such events face severe repression. On May 1 this year nearly 20 worker activists and civil rights campaigners were arrested, including trade unionist Mahmood Salehi, and human rights campaigners Narges Mohammadi and Neda Mostaghimi.

If Iranians feel the need to flee the country, Australia should welcome them, not send them back



1.  Human Rights Watch 2015 World Report

2. Amnesty International: “Death sentences and executions in 2014”