The following article was published by the UN's news centre - click here to download the original article. For the UNHCR's statement, click here.
The United Nations refugee agency today called on Syria not to extradite Iranian Arabs to their homeland, reminding the Government of its obligations not to return refugees or asylum seekers to territories where their lives or freedom might be threatened due to race, religion, nationality or political opinion.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) "is increasingly concerned about the fate of several Ahwazi (Iranian Arab) refugees recognized by our office in Damascus," spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva, citing the recent arrest of seven Ahwazis.
Six of these are recognized by UNHCR as refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention and one is a former refugee recently naturalized by the Netherlands. The Agency immediately raised its concerns at the highest levels, stressing that the recognised refugees should immediately be released. As a result, three have been freed but four remain in detention.
"UNHCR is particularly concerned about the fate of these Ahwazis, as the Syrian authorities recently deported to Iran an Arab-Iranian Ahwazi who was recognised as a mandate refugee by UNHCR Damascus at the end of 2005 and who had been accepted for resettlement in Norway," Mr. Redmond said.
According to the Syrian Foreign Ministry, the extradition was requested by the Iranian authorities. "Extradition does not mean that a refugee or asylum seeker loses his or her international protection status. We therefore strongly appeal to both Syrian and Iranian authorities to allow the refugee to depart to Norway as scheduled," Mr. Redmond added.
Ahwazi refugees came to Iraq and Syria during various periods. Recent human rights reports have expressed concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan) in Iran, home to nearly 2 million Iranians of Arab descent. Individuals promoting rights of the Arab people in the Ahwaz region have reportedly been targeted, and access to the region has been denied to foreign and local journalists, Mr. Redmond said.
"UNHCR strongly appeals to Syria to abide by its obligations under international law and to ensure that the principle of non-refoulement is recognised," he added.
"The principle of non-refoulement prohibits states from returning refugees or asylum seekers to territories where there is a risk that their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."
Syria's deportation scandal - British Ahwazi Friendship Society
Ahwazis face arrest, deportation and execution - British Ahwazi Friendship Society
Further information on fear of forcible return and new concern: Torture - Amnesty International
Syria arresting Ahwazi Arabs to please Iran - Ya Libnan
Ahwazi refugees arrested and deported to Iran - Syrian Human Rights Committee