Three Iranian men who were scheduled to be deported back to Iran from Belgium on Monday have been returned to a refugee detention centre after refusing to leave Belgian soil, Belga News Agency and Le Soir have reported.
One of the men, Mohsen Shekari, was scheduled to take a 11:30 flight back to Turkey, from which he had arrived in Belgium after fleeing across the border from Iran three months ago. The Belgian authorities have since confirmed that Shekari "refused to leave" and was subsequently returned to the Caricole refugee detention centre in Flemish Brabant.
Two other men, Alireza Hesam, and Mohammadreza Hamian, were also set to be deported to Iran via Turkey on a later (15:15) flight. Both also reportedly refused to leave.
The three men were allegedly targeted by the Iranian authorities after participating in the country's mass public protests, which were triggered by the death of a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who was ostensibly killed by Iran's morality police shortly after being arrested for wearing her hijab incorrectly. The protests were brutally suppressed by the Iranian authorities.
Public pressure saves the day
According to Belga News Agency, several people gathered in the departure hall of Brussels Airport to protest against the men's deportation.
"If they return to Iran, they will be killed," said Khotan Pakneshan, a Belgian-Iranian citizen who had come to Brussels Airport after seeing a television report on their case. "These are young people who participated in the protests against the regime in the city of Anzali [in Iran] and fled. What the Belgian state is doing is non-assistance to people in danger."
Pakneshan's remarks were echoed by Belgian MP Sophie Rohonyi (DéFI), who was also present at the protest: "These young people had to flee and are now the subject of an arrest warrant issued by the Iranian authorities. Belgium must respect its commitments in terms of non-refoulement."
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DéFI President François De Smet is expected to question Prime Minister Alexander De Croo about the men's prospective deportation at the Belgian Federal Parliament on Tuesday. He is also predicted to ask whether there is any connection between the men's deportation and the situation of Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele, who is currently detained in Iran.
The lawyer for Hesam and Hamian, Guillaume Lys, is also set to meet with his clients on Tuesday and will later file a formal request for their release.
"[My clients] are accused of a lack of consistency of certain elements of their [asylum] request," Lys said. "The Belgian authorities must understand that these people face a double risk, not only because of their participation in protests but also because of their expulsion which will mean that, whatever happens, they will be considered opponents and subjected to ill-treatment."
The Iranian Government had originally called for the three men to be deported back to Iran so as to face charges of "disturbing public order." The Belgium authorities subsequently decided that the three men did not fulfil the conditions for receiving refugee status.