AMSTERDAMImmigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk has bowed to pressure from parliament and agreed not to deport Iranian gay people and Christian converts for the time being.
The Minister told MPs on Wednesday afternoon she would extend a previous moratorium on the expulsions. She took the decision when it became clear a majority of MPs doubt whether the rejected asylum seekers would be safe in Iran.
The moratorium will remain in force until a new foreign ministry assessment of the situation in Iran for gays and Muslims who have converted to Christianity has been completed. This will likely take until August or September.
Verdonk announced in late February she intended to begin deportations of people from both categories who had been refused asylum in the Netherlands. Citing a previous assessment by Dutch officials, she maintained gay people and Christians dont face a significant risk of persecution in Iran, as long as they are not too open about themselves.
MPs and national gay federation COC voiced serious criticism of her decision in light of the fact expulsions of gay people to Iran had been suspended last summer following reports of the executions of two gay men.
People convicted of gay sex can face the death penalty under the strict Islamic laws in Iran. The Iranian authorities said the men were executed for rape of a man and robbery, and not because they were gay.
The expulsion of Muslim Iranians who have converted to Christianity was also halted recently following a request by Christian party ChristenUnie.
Verdonk and Foreign Minister Ben Bot defended the February assessment as meticulous and objective on Wednesday but MPs continued to express doubts. Speaking to the media afterwards, Verdonk said it was common knowledge that the situation for gay people and converts was often not as good as it is in the Netherlands.
Very many gay people and converts from Islam could apply to live in the Netherlands if this were to be grounds to allow asylum, she said.
COC chairman Frank van Dalen said he was pleased failed gay asylum seekers were not being expelled for the time being. But what is going to happen in six months? Some of them face death sentences and are left in great uncertainty over their future, he said.
Van Dalen said he wants to put Verdonk in contact with gay Iranians who are living in the Netherlands so she can hear from them what it is like in the Islamic Republic.