Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Iranian Freedom Institute


  Every year tens of thousands of Iranians leave Iran to make asylum applications in Western countries. Iranian asylum seekers are the second largest group seeking refuge in the UK according to Home Office figures.

  It is important to understand why so many people leave Iran, how the Islamic Republic government, views and handles this and important issues that the UK authorities must be aware of.

  The vast majority of Iranian refugees are non political, in the sense that they have not taken part in any political activity against the regime. Nevertheless these are people who feel they can no longer live in the restrictive theocratic state which offers them little opportunity for self development and self expression.

  Most Iranian refugees leave Iran through a perilous journey, which can take many years before they reach the security and freedom they seek.

It is important to understand why so many, particularly young Iranians, who are not facing any immediate arrest or detention in Iran choose to risk their lives, livelihood, family and honour in such a perilous uncertain task, yet these same refugees are not willing to take part in any political activity against the regime inside Iran and obtain the personal freedoms they desire in their own country.

  Having talked to thousands of Iranian refugees across Europe and border towns of Turkey, our conclusion is that the Iranian refugees and asylum seekers feel by seeking asylum in Western countries, they have a 5% chance of a better life, where as they feel their chance of success in taking on the regime which would lead to any positive outcome is zero.

  Over the last 28 years, the Islamic Republic has managed to wipe out any credible internal opposition without much international outcry and at the same time even the United States and Europe have been shown to be weak and incapable of matching the strength of the Iranian regime by a continuous policy of appeasement or what the EU members like to refer to as "critical dialogue".

  A combination of swift sharp crackdown on any credible Iranian opposition inside Iran and the perceived weakness by the West to deal with the Islamic Republic, has helped to create an image of regime's invincibility to the Iranian people. This has resulted in the Iranian people lacking confidence to take on the regime.

  The Islamic regime welcomes the perception of this image by the Iranian people and further promotes it at every opportunity, in particular when the EU and the US seem incapable of putting any real pressure on Iran.

  Far from showing a hostile reaction to those who leave the country to seek asylum elsewhere, the Iranian government has astutely turned the situation to her own advantage.

  The Iranian government views those who leave Iran and their discontent with the status quo in Iran, as a potential internal problem. When these people leave Iran, part of this potential troublesome force is literally removed from Iran by itself.

  We have even heard from genuine political refugees and ex-political prisoners, who have been detained by Iranian intelligence agencies at the airport before leaving Iran, to be told that they should also take their other family members out of Iran with them too.

  The regime knows that genuine political activists who leave Iran will be neutralised by the ongoing internal wrangling of the Iranian ex-pat opposition. They will even be accused by the external opposition of being bogus dissidents who have left Iran with relative ease.

  As for the non-politically active asylum seekers who have left Iran and have been successful with their asylum applications, again the Islamic regime has found an ingenious way of neutralising them from ever becoming an effective power base against the government outside Iran.

  Once these refugees have made a successful asylum application they are then encouraged to go to the Iranian embassy in London and claim that their passport is lost or stolen. They will even print an ad in a local newspaper asking for anyone who finds their "missing" passport to return it to them. The Islamic Republic embassy in London, knowing full well what is going on, turns a blind eye and issues them with a new Iranian passport. These people can now effectively enjoy life in the West and the opportunities it provides and at the same time have the privilege of visiting their relatives and enjoy cheap holidays in Iran. Thus for the sake of retaining that privilege, the Iranian government ensures that these masses will never dare to dabble in Iranian opposition activities outside Iran.

  By adopting such resourceful tactics, the Iranian government ensures that a potential discontented population is removed from the country, will never enter opposition activities outside Iran, and will even become a source of income through their annual visits to Iran.

  It is bizarre that the very people, who once endured such perilous journeys and falsely claimed their lives and freedom is in such imminent danger, suddenly feel comfortable to travel back and forward to Iran so frequently without facing any consequences from either the UK or the Iranian government.

  Some of these bogus refugees even work for the Iranian government agencies operating in UK such as Press TV, the Islamic Centre in Maida Vale, schools, mosques, student societies etc.

  The Iranian government has also seen yet another opportunity to its benefit from this refugee saga and that is to send their own agents as asylum seekers who will later become UK residents with full rights and benefits.

  To our knowledge there is no monitoring of these people who have achieved successful asylum applications under false pretences by the Home Office, nor do they face any retribution if they are found to have obtained asylum under false pretences.

  In our experience, the UK government has not got an effective procedure for distinguishing between genuine and bogus asylum seekers. As one of our immigration lawyer friends once said, "To make a successful asylum application is very much like buying a lottery ticket". Many genuine asylum applicants are refused while thousands of bogus applications are quickly accepted.

  At the same time the Iranian ex-pat opposition has also been ineffective at recruiting from this potential mass of discontented Iranians. Many ineffective and irrelevant opposition groups of the Iranian Diaspora, in order to bolster themselves as an effective group with operatives inside Iran, have written statements in support of bogus Iranian asylum seekers claiming that the applicant is one of their members inside Iran etc. Usually these applicants will take part in some activities with their sponsoring groups, such as protests outside the Iranian embassy in London, for the duration of their application with the Home Office, but will cease all contact with their sponsoring groups as soon as their application has been successful.

  Currently there are two schools of thought in the free countries on how to handle Iran.

  A few who are currently in minority favour military action and intervention, while most other pundits, usually out of desperation and having no other viable alternative, favour appeasement and negotiation with the Iranian regime.

  While we consider engagement with the Iranian government as a natural and necessary diplomatic activity, we consider the way this has been carried out in the last 28 years to have been ineffective. After 28 years of failure it is common sense to review this approach.

  In order for the West to have a serious cutting edge in negotiations with Iran, there must be a credible Iranian opposition which can be used as a lever against the regime.

  A credible Iranian opposition is necessary even for those who suggest a military scenario to deal with Iran, for there needs to be some form of opposition that can take control of the situation after an attack, or there will just be chaos and anarchy in a crucial part of the world.

  Just as in the Soviet era, engagement with the regime must also go hand in hand with support for human rights and engagement with Iranian dissidents.

  It is also in the West's interest to have a credible effective Iranian opposition outside Iran. Most of the ex-pat opposition groups outside Iran however are ineffective and lack credibility.

  Their activities are limited to holding summits and conferences in hotels, where formations of short-lived new opposition groups are announced. They fail to see that credible opposition groups can only be formed in conjunction with social work and charitable activities, as practiced by the Islamic Republic in other countries. Of course the Islamic Republic has the benefit of having access to billions of petro-dollar income and Iranian opposition groups mostly operate on shoe-string budgets.

November 2007

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