Caught in the Middle

By Claire Evans

07/03/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – They climb moun­tains, cross val­leys, and swim across the sea. Sometimes all of their earthly possessions are packed onto their backs or inside their cars. Sometimes, they have no earthly pos­sessions. Their lives already uprooted, they travel in search of a better one. They flee violence, chaos, and perse­cution.

Waiting for Decades

Turkey has welcomed over 3 million refugees from around the Middle East as they wait for relocation, a process that can take years, even decades. Staying hidden and out of sight is the most common response by Iranian Christian refugees during periods of heightened publicity. Because of refu­gee job restrictions, most work ille­gally. During this latest crisis, they stayed home. It was only supposed to be a short break, a few weeks at most.

But then COVID-19 arrived, and the time at home continued. If they had stayed in Iran, imprisonment was a real possibility. But now in Turkey, they find themselves sentenced to a type of house arrest. With no income, there is no food. They became as they had arrived in Turkey—with little pos­sessions and no prospects.

Vulnerable in Turkey

Compared to other countries, refu­gees can expect a better quality of life in Turkey. But hosting refugees is expensive. As the chaos of the Middle East continuously perpetuates, Turkey finds the refugee population increasing and their relocation delayed. Meanwhile, as Turkey’s relationship with the rest of the world grows tenser, refugees become caught in the middle.

As tens of thousands of refugees gath­ered along the Turkish-European bor­der, some voluntarily, others by force, Turkish President Erdogan argued angri­ly before Parliament at the height of the conflict with the EU over the placement of these refugees, “What did we do yes­terday? We opened the doors. We will not close those doors. Why? Because the European Union should keep its promises… We are not in a situation to handle a new wave of refugees.”

Persecution has driven tens of thou­sands of Christians into Turkey as refu­gees. All of them feel vulnerable, but the Iranian refugees fear they could be in a trap. If any of the refugees lose their UN status, they will return home to an unstable situation. However, an Iranian Christian will have to return home to face persecution at the hands of a totali­tarian state.

Surveillance from Iran

Their presence in Turkey is haunt­ed by the knowledge that Turkey allows Iran to conduct surveillance on its Christian refugees. Occasionally, Turkey will even facilitate deportation requests from Iran.

When Iranian Christians asked for help, the answer was clear. Persecution had meant they were barely surviving as refugees, and COVID-19 made the situation worse. We were able to help a handful of these refugees at the time of writing. For this, we are grateful, but we are seeking out ways to bypass security and logistical concerns to meet a far greater need in Turkey.

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