TBILISI: Catholic Iranian Gets Runaround From Georgian Officials On


Daily Georgian Times
July 28 2008

Esmaeil Ebrahimi Pashabaig, an Iranian citizen first requested
political asylum in Georgia over a year ago. However, the ministry for
refugees and accommodation rejected his request. He has not yet decided
whether he will stay in Georgia or ask another European country for
political asylum. He is currently appealing the ministry’s decision.

Pashabaig first came to Georgia from Armenia in February 2006. He has
lived in the USA, Turkey, and Armenia. In February 2006, he visited
Georgia because he hoped to go to Azerbaijan, which he could do only
via Georgia. Azeri border guards prevented him from entering Azerbaijan
and Pashabaig had to return to Georgia.

"Georgian border guards detained him. According to our legislation,
border violation is not considered a crime. The border guards
contacted us and asked to render legal assistance to the Iranian
citizen," says Manama Kobakhidze, the head of the NGO "Article 42
of Constitution". She is now working to protect the interests of
Pashabaig in Georgia.

According to Pashabaig, when Georgian border guards detained him
on February 15, 2006, they deprived him of his passport and all
documents. His lawyer Kobakhidze states that Georgian border guards
handed the documents over to the Embassy of Iran in Georgia.

Later Pashabaig, who says that his conversion to Catholicism make
at risk of facing serious punishment upon returning to Islamic Iran,
asked Georgian authorities for refugee status.

"I’d like to return to my country but I cannot, because my life will
be under threat there. For over two years I have been asking Georgia
for refugee status and temporary residential area but in vain,"
Pashabaig says.

Currently he lives in a hostel in Bagebi. Although he says that is
fine living there, he resides there illegally.

Pashabaig says that if Georgian authorities do not grant refugee
status to him and make their decision on deportation his life will
be under serious threat.

He also claims that he cannot return to Armenia either. Pashabaig
spent four years in Armenia where he married an Armenian
citizen. Nevertheless, he claims that, because relatives of his wife
robbed and persecuted him, he was forced to leave Armenia and he
found shelter in Georgia. According to him, his family in Armenia
works along side the Armenian police, and if he returned, his life
would be in danger.

However, Pashabaig’s arguments are not enough for the Georgian Ministry
for Refugees and Accommodation to grant refugee status to him.

According to a letter to Pashabaig from the Georgian ministry for
refugees and accommodation his "documents do not prove" that he faces
a serious threat in Armenia, where lived for a few years: "Considering
this, the ministry reckons it unreasonable to grant refugee status."

Pashabaig has addressed the ministry several times but in
vain. Finally, with the help of Kobakhidze’s NGO, he prepared a
lawsuit and an appeal on the decision of the ministry at Tbilisi city
court. Based on the suit filed by Pashabaig on July 10, 2008, the
administrative board of the Tbilisi City Court abolished the rejection
from the Ministry for Refugees and Accommodation and returned the case
to the ministry for another consideration. The court also required
that a suitable residential place be granted to Pashabaig during the
consideration process.

Kobakhidze declares that her client has already practically won the
process. The administrative act issued by the ministry that rejected
Esmaeil’s request for registration as an asylum seeker and refugee
status, was annulled by the court.

"The court instructed the ministry to study factual reasons of the
case and make final decision respectively," says Kobakhidze.

According to the lawyer, the ministry can still reject Pashabaig’s
request, but this decision must be based on a thorough study of the
factual situation.

Kobakhidze says that when the ministry did not satisfy Pashabaig’s
request for registration as an asylum seeker it did not understand
that the Iranian citizen could not return to Armenia, where he lived
before arriving in Georgia or Iran, his native land, as he would be
under serious threat in those countries.

On July 17, 2008, Pashabaig was informed that his request for refugee
status will still not be considered and the decision of Tbilisi City
Court Administrative board to allocated residential are for him will
also not be satisfied until the Appeal Court completes consideration
of the ministry’s suit.

Pashabaig’s lawyer believes that he should have already received
refugee status but the process is being prolonged due to both objective
and subjective reasons.

She explains that one time the court had to interrogate a witness,
an Azeri citizen and head of a religious organization in Azerbaijan
who spent many years in Iran and knew about Iranian fundamentalist
religious organizations.

"The witness was to speak about the threats that Pashabaig would face
in Iran considering the Islamic faith. The witness needed a Russian
language interpreter. It took a year for the city court to find two
interpreters for Pashabaig."

Kobakhidze states that the ministry was eligible to appeal the court’s
decision. "It means that the decision of administrative board will
not come into force. It will be postponed and we’ll have to wait for
the Appeal Court’s decision," says Kobakhidze.

She says that Pashabaig asks for the refugee status because
he will face torture and inhumane treatment if he returns to
Iran. If the ministry satisfies his request, Pashabaig will stay in
Georgia. However, he will have the right to move to another country,
a right he has no chance to take advantage of because he has no
official paper.