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UN refugee agency appeals to Syria for release of three Iranian Arabs

UN refugee agency appeals to Syria for release of three Iranian Arabs

Voicing “deep concern” about the fate of three Iranian Arabs being held in Syria, the United Nations refugee agency today urged their release.

Before being taken into detention last May in Damascus, the three “Ahwazi” people were recognized as refugees and had been accepted for resettlement in Western European countries, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“We have been in regular contact with Syrian authorities in Damascus as well as in Geneva to discuss the situation of the three men,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond said, voicing “deep concern” about their fate. “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.”

Appealing for the immediate release of the three Ahwazi, Mr. Redmond said UNHCR is “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 resttlement.”

He added that the agency is “all the more concerned about these three detained refugees following Syria's previous extradition to Iran of an Arab-Iranian Ahwazi last May.” That individual had been recognized under UNHCR's mandate at the end of 2005 and had been accepted for resettlement to a third country but 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.

Deportation of recognized refugees represents a violation of the principle of non-refoulement or forced return, the agency pointed out. 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.