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Ahwazi Arab refugees freed in Syria

An international campaign by Ahwazi and international human rights organisations has succeeded in freeing five Ahwazi Arab refugees who had been arrested in Damascus in March.

Human rights activists had been alarmed at the arrests, fearing the men would share the fate of four Ahwazi refugees and a Dutch citizen of Ahwazi descent who were deported from Syria to Iran last year. The men are now believed to be in prison and undergoing severe torture. The illegal deportations of Ahwazi refugees prompted protests from the UNHCR, while the Ahwazi population in Damascus is living in fear.

The British Ahwazi Friendship Society (BAFS) led lobbying efforts at the European Parliament, the UN Human Rights Commission and Syrian embassies in London and Brussels. Meanwhile, the Ahwaz Human Rights Organisation issued a number of appeals to High Commissioner António Guterres and the Arabic media.

Last week, Human Rights Watch called for the immediate release of Ahwazi Arab refugees or "disclose a credible legal basis for detaining them." (click here for report) The Tehran-based Ahwazi journalist Youssef Azizi Bani Torouf, the father of detained refugees Afnan Azizi (20), had also written public appeals to the Syrian government. (click here for report)

The Arabic language Elaph news website today reported that Afnan Azizi along with Ahmad Asadi (28), Jaber Ebayat (19), Kamal Naseri (27) and Salahuddin Helali Majd (26) were released without charge. (click here for report) However, the fate of 24-year-old Ali Bouazar, who had fled Iran after being sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court, is still unknown. BAFS has received information that he was deported back to Iran soon after his arrest. Unlike the other five men, Bouazar had not been registered as a refugee with the UNHCR and was technically an illegal immigrant. BAFS is concerned that Bouazar's life is in danger and is continuing to research his whereabouts.

There are at least 90 Ahwazi Arabs in Syria who have applied for asylum or have been registered with the UNHCR. BAFS is campaigning for all Ahwazi asylum seekers and refugees to be evacuated from Syria to other countries in the region and temporarily resettled while their claims are processed or while they wait for permanent resettlement.