Iranian Christian Refugees in Turkey: Challenges, Harassment, and the Road to Resettlement

Xavier Roger
Image Credit - Britanica, Bodrum, Turkey: Castle of St. Peter
Iranian Christian refugees Bodrum, Turkey: Castle of St. Peter
Image Credit – Britanica, Bodrum, Turkey: Castle of St. Peter


The situation for Iranian Christian immigrants in Turkey has become increasingly complex since the authorities in Ankara took over the assessment of asylum claims and refugee status from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2018. These refugees find themselves trapped in a state of limbo, with limited opportunities for financial support, constant harassment from employers, and the risk of deportation hanging over their heads. Their freedom of movement is restricted to the province of registration, and they require special permits to travel elsewhere. The threat of losing their refugee status and facing repatriation is an ever-present reality.

A recent report sheds light on the precarious conditions in which Christian refugees in Turkey live, describing their struggle to find stable employment and a reliable income, while constantly living with the fear of being deported. Many of these refugees fled Iran due to persecution, threats, and the denial of basic rights such as education and the ability to work. The Iranian government targets Christians, particularly Protestant and evangelical groups, viewing them as apostates in a country with a Shia majority. This repression has led to the flight of numerous families across the border, seeking safety and protection.

Turkey has become a popular destination for Iranian Christian refugees due to its accessibility and relatively low cost of travel and stay. Some families visit as tourists or participate in events, conferences, or training programs. Additionally, there are Persian-speaking churches in major Turkish cities that facilitate religious worship and provide a sense of community. However, not all refugees have the necessary travel documents and resort to illegal entry through mountain passes with the assistance of smugglers. This risky journey is undertaken because the dangers faced in Iran are perceived as greater than those of the journey itself.

Once these refugees arrive in Turkey, they often find themselves in a state of uncertainty and insecurity. Without a plan, savings, or knowledge of the local language, their difficulties are compounded. The Turkish government, the UN, and various authorities do not provide financial assistance, accommodation, or support. Renting a house is particularly challenging, as landlords may demand higher deposits or inflate prices for refugees compared to Turkish citizens.

While Christian refugees apply for international reception and register as asylum seekers in Turkey, the process of resettlement in a third country can take years, if it happens at all. In the meantime, they face numerous challenges such as unemployment, exploitation, financial hardship, loss of health insurance, discrimination, racism, social hostility, security threats, difficulties in children’s education, and psychological pressure. Opportunities for resettlement in popular destinations like Canada, Australia, and the United States are limited.

The report underscores the struggles faced by these refugees and highlights the significant obstacles they encounter. The UN’s refugee relocation mechanism, which previously facilitated the resettlement of refugees in Turkey, has slowed down significantly. With only a fraction of refugees being resettled globally, it would take centuries to address the current refugee crisis at the current rate.

The experiences of Iranian Christian refugees in Turkey are marked by trauma and the perpetuation of past suffering. The pain of being a migrant compound the hardships they have endured, creating an ongoing cycle of struggle and distress. Urgent action and international cooperation are necessary to address the challenges faced by these vulnerable individuals and provide them with the support and opportunities they need to rebuild their lives with dignity and security.

Source – Anglican.ink


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