Nothing but warm words: German government balks at admitting 20 Iranian torture victims

2010/04/30

Published in German weekly “Zeit” on 30. April 2010
German Source http://www.zeit.de/2010/18/Iran-Fluechtlinge
English translation provided by @germantoenglish

by Jörg Lau
When hundreds of thousands of Iranians peacefully protested against the rigged elections in Tehran last summer, they could count on the world’s sympathy – all the more so after the regime sent out its thugs to shoot into the crowds, and finally incarcerated thousands of Iranian citizens.

Even the judiciary works against Iran's opposition: Dissidents on trial in Tehran (© /AFP/Getty Images)


Angela Merkel was among those who condemned the brutal crackdown of the security forces against the people. She expressed her “deepest sympathy” to the families of the victims.

What’s the value of the German government’s sympathy? This is a question that those who had a narrow escape from death, torture and imprisonment in Iran must ask themselves today. For months, human rights activists have been seeking to ensure that the Federal Government admits at least some of those opposition supporters who are traumatized and at particular risks.

Mehran Barati and Farin Fakhari, two exiled Iranians and opponents of the Shah regime and the mollahs, who have been living in Germany for many years, together with the Berlin professor Hajo Funke established contacts between the refugees and German authorities. Among the refugees are students who were raped with batons while in detention. One of them has had several vertebrae smashed as a result of beatings. Another one was subjected to severe psychological terror – he was forced to eat faeces, and as a result he suffers from asthmatic attacks of anxiety.

Turkey tolerates these people who live in poor satellite cities in the southeastern border area of the country, where they struggle to survive – without income and appropriate medical care, in constant fear of the Iranian intelligence service.

Already in January, the Federal Government received a list with about 80 names and case histories, among them those of many journalists, bloggers and student activists of the “green movement”. The German authorities, however, started by attempting to reduce the list of candidates to a maximum of 20. Officials in the Interior Ministry do not even want to confirm this low number.

For comparison: Last year, the USA alone accepted 1169 Iranian refugees from Turkey. Canada accepted 255, Australia 89, and Sweden 45 refugees. On 8 March, it temporarily seemed that things would start inching forward. Prior to the federal press conference, a spokeswoman of the Interior Ministry announced that Germany would admit “a certain number of refugees in substantiated individual cases”. Seven weeks later, the Ministry in identical wording responded to a request of “ZEIT”, stating that “in agreement with the Foreign Office, it was decided to admit a certain number of refuge seeking Iranian citizens from abroad, especially from Turkey, to Germany”. In other words: Nothing happened.

Political scientist Hajo Funke’s impression is that the strategy of the Interior Ministry aims to discourage the refugees as well as those who support them. Apparently, the message is that “a restrictive policy will be continued” – according to the Ministry this is for the reason that Germany during the regime of the Shah and later Ayatollah Khomeini accepted many Iranian refugees. Now other nations are to be considered first. And by the way, the willingness of the federal states is a precondition for accepting refugees.

In Funke’s view, all this is nothing but shabby excuses: Not only do other nations pursue a much more open-minded approach – Norway, for example, is ready to accept 140 Iranians. Also, three German federal states have already indicated that they are capable of accepting a total of well over 20 refugees. “Is the Interior Ministry thwarting interior ministers who are all too willing?” Funke asks. Are they trying to avoid the impression that the current liberal-conservative government is practising a generous asylum policy?

Ruprecht Polenz, foreign affairs politician of the [conservative Christian-Democratic Union] CDU, advocates the cause of the Iranian refugees on grounds of not only human rights. For him, the credibility of the German Iran policy is at stake. Germany should send a clear message to the judges and prosecutors in Iran who contributed to the suppression of the opposition, to make it clear that “we will not accept their shameful sentences”, says Polenz.

According to Polenz, Germany should participate in the resolving of the refugee problem in order to let Iran know that its nuclear plans will not distract Germany from dealing with the human rights violations.

Since 2008, the Federal Republic in an unbureaucratic act has accepted almost 2500 refugees from Iraq. Obviously, this was related to the letter “C” [standing for “Christian”] in the name of the governing political party. Initially, Germany intended to accept only Christians who were subjected to exceptionally brutal persecution in Iraq. From legal – and moral – points of view, however, this approach was questionable:

Is it “christian” to help only Christians? Consequently, entry permits were extended to Iraqi citizens of other religious adherence. Iranians, however, can not expect this to happen to them. Even the low figure of 20 refugees of the “green movement” is sparking knee-jerk defense reactions.

Next week this could prove to be a real embarrassment. On 7 May, Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari will accept the Henri-Nannen-Award – the most important German journalism award. He will be representing his Iranian peers who, according to the rationale, “are facing most severe repression in their country”. This is an appealing gesture for Bahari, who himself was arrested and was allowed to leave for London only after vehement protests.

The fact that at the same time Bahari’s fellow sufferers – to whose articles, videos, blogs and tweets the German public owes all their knowledge about the green revolution – are being abandoned by the German government would be a bitter irony.

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One Response to “Nothing but warm words: German government balks at admitting 20 Iranian torture victims”


  1. Yesterday I phoned with Kai Weber from Fluechtlingsrat Niedersachsen. I asked him about these 20 iranian refugees out of Turkey. He told me, that he has talked to Innenministerium (suppose, Niedersachsen’s MI …). It was said, that this is a “vernachlässigbare unbedeutende Gruppe mit speziellen Bedürfnissen, die still und klammheimlich aufgenommen werden sollen …”

    If it’s possible to hide this, I wouldn’t promise …


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