By Niusha Saremi (source: Rooz Online)
Iran’s deputy foreign minister has asserted that contrary to the prevalent propaganda, the refugee trend in recent years has been in-bound into Iran, rather than outbound. Hassan Ghashghavi at the same time acknowledged that many Iranians had left the country in the aftermath of the controversial 2009 presidential elections adding that those who emigrated were from the political sectors of society. He declared the political sector to be between 50,000 to 100,000 people, adding that they constituted an “irrelevant” size. He even said that many of those who had emigrated after the events returned to Iran after a few months.
Iranian Citizens' Rights (cartoon by Mana Neyestani, Iran Wire)
Atmosphere of Fear Has Been Created by Opposition Bent on Overthrow
Speaking to Shargh newspaper about Iranian emigrants, Ghashghavi generally repeated what the judiciary has officially announced about Iranians leaving the country, remarks that contradicted president Rouhani’s campaign promises. Rouhani has said that it is the natural right of every Iranian to visit Iran while Ghashghavi said, in the interview, “We look at this issue from a legal perspective. Any Iranian national who is charged with a criminal offense, whether s/he is in Iran our outside, should expect to be tried. It makes no difference whether he is outside the country or inside. Everybody else who is not under legal pursuit is free to visit his birthplace.”
He continued, “We do not have a legal banned entry category. But if a person has committed a crime, it is obvious that if the relevant authorities gain access to him, they will be prosecuted. The atmosphere that the opposition, particularly the opposition that strives to overthrown the regime, and foreign radio stations have created is that of unrealistic fear. A person may have been outside the country for 30 years and because he has no criminal record, he will not have a case against him. He has no problem returning to Iran. Still, if someone has an issue about leaving the country, s/he can ask us. We will inquire from the relevant authorities and they will provide us with the right answer.” “This fear is self-created and has no foundations,” he said.
Addressing another issue that is mentioned in the emigre community, Ghashghavi said, “Nobody is after trapping a person,” and mentioned some cases where an Iranian had been told that if he returned to Iran he would “have problems.” “We do not lie to people because if we did, then the reputation of the foreign ministry would be undermined,” he continued. He even provided an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to direct such questions.
Hassan Ghashghavi's interview with Shargh daily
But what perhaps was more surprising in Ghashghavi’s interview was his claim that in the last ten to eleven years, the trend of Iranian refugees had changed direction so that more Iranians had been returning to Iran rather than leaving their homeland. “Certainly some people left the country after 2009. But they belonged to the political section of society. For example, from amongst five million Iranians outside the country, only between 50,000 to 100,000 left it because of political reasons, not economic or cultural reasons. But I do not have official and definitive figures on this,” he continued. He repeatedly said that in the last 15 years, more Iranians returned to the country than the number of those who emigrated.
He then threw another bombshell by saying, “From amongst the five million Iranians outside the country, 50,000 to 100,000 is not a large number. Even if we accept that there were waves and waves of such political departures, their total numbers are not high to be relevant. Different interpretations are presented over the nature of protests related to the 2009 presidential elections but if the wave of emigrants grew in the first, second or third months, this did not continue till the end. Some left and stayed, whose number is between 50,000 and 100,000, and some returned after a stay of a few months.”
There Are No Bans on Entering Iran; Wanted List Exists
President Rouhani had promised during his election campaign that he would facilitate the return of Iranians who had left the country. He continued to express this goal even after he was sworn in and after the first joint session of the cabinet and the Majlis announced, “One of our capital resources are the Iranians living outside the country. The Majlis and the government should work together to facilitate their return.” This message was even published on his Twitter account and was widely circulated.
When he was in the US to attend the annual UN General Assembly meeting also Rouhani met with a group of Iranians and stressed that “The administration of foresight and hope (the name he has given to his administration) views it as its duty to facilitate the travel of Iranians to their homeland. It is the natural right of every Iranian to visit his motherland. We do not have the right to deny an Iranian the right to visit his homeland.” When he said, “Iran belongs to Iranians. It belongs to all Iranians. The government is not their guardian. If I wanted to convey your message to Iran perhaps the most important one would be to say that visiting Iran is our natural right,” the attendees displayed an unusual show of enthusiasm.
A month after these remarks, Ghashghavi announced the creation of a special committee for the return of political activists to Iran. According to him, the group comprised of representatives from different government agencies, including those of intelligence and foreign affairs.
The judiciary branch of government has also announced that any person who has committed a crime is a wanted individual who will be arrested and prosecuted on his return, and that there is no list that bans any Iranians from returning to their country. Its spokesperson, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejei has also expressly declared that any person who committed crimes against people or the regime during the 2009 events would be arrested on their return.
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