GENEVA (Reuters)–The United Nations refugee agency voiced concern on Thursday over reports that Turkey had forcibly deported 135 Iraqis to their homeland, including some who had claimed asylum.
The Iraqis were among 500 migran’s from the Middle East and Asia who were rounded up earlier this month in the western Turkish province of Izmir, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"Given the current situation in Iraq, UNHCR is extremely concerned for the safety of these people. No information is currently available on their whereabouts," it said of the 135.
The statement, which a spokesman’said was based on information from "reliable sources on the ground", said it appeared that "some of the deported had made an asylum claim".
"If this is confirmed, the deportations would be a clear violation of the principle of non-refoulement, under which no refugee or asylum seeker whose case has not yet been properly assessed can be forcibly returned to a country where their life or liberty may be at risk," it said.
Refoulement is banned by the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, which Turkey has ratified.
Neither the Iraqis’ origin nor their ethnicity was known. The group of 500 was stopped at Urla, Izmir as they were about to depart Turkey "irregularly", according to the UNHCR. Turkey has agreed to conduct a joint screening exercise with the UNHCR to identify those in the remaining group of migran’s who might wish to apply for asylum, according to the agency.