May 02, 2007

Iran: UK Halts Asylum Talks

The British government’s spokesperson announced yesterday (01 May 2007) that the memorandum of understanding with Iran on the return of failed asylum seekers has been abandoned.

The British government’s spokesperson announced yesterday (01/05/07) that the memorandum of understanding with Iran on the return of failed asylum seekers has been abandoned. 

Below is an article published by

The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) is putting pressure on the British government to reveal details of the UK's Memorandum of Understanding [MoU] with Iran over the return of failed asylum seekers after a government spokesman announced that the MoU had been abandoned.

In March, Home Office Minister Baroness Scotland announced that the British government had "not been able to implement our MoU with Iran as the arrangements originally negotiated are no longer appropriate or practical." However, she insisted that the “content of MoU negotiations is confidential for operational reasons." BAFS has been campaigning for the publication of the MoU since May 2006, when a request for disclosure was made under the Freedom of Information Act. But the government has refused the requests. BAFS's campaign for disclosure has been backed by British Conservative and Green MEPs, who have also demanded answers from the government.

At the heart of the issue surrounding the UK's MoU with Iran is the transfer of confidential information on asylum seekers fleeing persecution in Iran, the forced deportation of Iranian asylum seekers before their cases were heard and the forcing asylum seekers to apply for passports with the Iranian Embassy in London.

The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) has received reports that returned asylum seekers are being arrested and interrogated by Iranian officials about information contained in their asylum applications. Some allege that the Iranian authorities are in receipt of British Home Office documents on these failed asylum seekers. This information is often incriminating as it details political activities. BAFS is the only advocacy group that has campaigned against the MoU, which affects all Iranian refugees and not just Ahwazi Arabs.

BAFS Chairman Daniel Brett said: "While we welcome the government's decision to abandon the MoU, we still do not know the details of this memorandum or the reasons why the British government abandoned it. As the MoU is no longer in force, there is no reason for the government to withhold information on its details.

"We suspect that there may be some link with the illegal deportation of Ahwazi UNHCR-registered refugees from Syria to Iran in May 2006. The refugees are now suffering brutal torture at the hands of their interrogators. If Iran cannot abide by the UN Convention relating to refugees, then it cannot be trusted to respect any MoU which is not legally enforceable. The government refuses to say why the MoU has been suspended and in what circumstances it will come back into force, which creates considerable uncertainty for asylum seekers waiting for their cases to be heard. Some Ahwazi asylum seekers are suicidal and some are thinking of disappearing due to the lingering uncertainties over the UK's MoU with Iran."

Mr Brett has written to Deputy Speaker Sir Alan Haselhurst to urge the government to reveal the details of the MoU. He also called for an investigation into any weaknesses within the asylum process which could have been exploited by the Iranian regime to extract information on asylum seekers.