U.S. Accepts Iranian Christians for Resettlement

Barbara G. Baker | Compass Direct | Thursday, December 8, 2005

U.S. Accepts Iranian Christians for Resettlement

December 8, 2005

(Compass) – The United States has approved emergency resettlement for a family of four Iranian Christians left stranded in Turkey since an October deportation order.
 
Last week Zivar Khademian and her three adult children were enrolled in three days of cultural orientation for resettlement in the United States under the auspices of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) in Istanbul.
 
Simultaneously, the family was issued temporary identity cards from ICMC, confirming their approved resettlement status under the U.S. refugee program. The new ID cards were the first written documents confirming their formal refugee status, although they were informed in a November 10 telephone call from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ankara that they had been accepted.
 
All four were also given routine medical check-ups, required by the U.S. government of approved refugees going to the United States.
 
The widowed Khademian, together with her daughter Fatemeh Moini, 19, and sons Hossein and Kazem Moini, both in their early 30s, had fled to Turkey in January 2003. All were baptized in secret by a Protestant church in Tehran a few days before they left Iran.
 
After arriving in Turkey, the family was twice refused UNHCR refugee status, despite their status as former Muslims who had converted to Christianity. Under Iran’s strict Islamic laws, anyone who abandons the Muslim faith faces the death penalty.
 
Kazem Moini had been jailed for six months in Tehran after being caught duplicating Christian tapes, and a strict Muslim relative from the Basij militia was demanding that Fatemeh Moini be given to him in marriage, as promised by her deceased father.
 
Later, the family also obtained a copy of an arrest order issued in October 2004 by the Supreme Court of Iran against Khademian for committing apostasy.
 
Although the family received a final rejection letter last February from the UNHCR declaring their file “closed,” Turkish authorities stayed their deportation order for six months in response to a plea from a Canadian church hoping to sponsor the family. But when the extension expired, the family was ordered to leave Turkey by October 20 or be forced back to Iran, where they faced probable arrest and the death penalty.
 
After a formal appeal to the UNHCR by the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Refugee Legal Aid Program in Istanbul, the U.S. intervened directly in their plight, summoning the family to Istanbul for an eligibility interview four days after their deportation deadline had expired.
 
Although the family was given no indication when they will be transferred to the United States or where they will be resettled, they were instructed last week to begin calling the local International Organization for Migration (IOM) office each Wednesday for news on their scheduled departure flight from Istanbul.
 
“Because of annual resettlement quotas, it is highly probable that they will leave before the end of December,” the family’s legal officer at the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly program told Compass.
 
Meanwhile, police authorities in Kastamonu, the city in central Turkey where the Moinis were sent to live for the past two years, called Kazem Moini 10 days ago, asking him to return to pick up the family’s Turkish residence permits. According to the officer, the permits had been returned from Ankara in order to process their exit visas from Turkey.
 
In addition, Hossein Moini was notified last Friday that he must re-take his medical examinations at Istanbul’s American Hospital next week.
 
But once that last medical hurdle is passed and they have collected their Turkish residence permits, presumably the family need only await for news through a telephone call confirming that they have reserved seats on a long-awaited plane flight to a new life.
 
Copyright 2005 Compass Direct