UNHCR deplores forced return of 135 Iraqis by Turkey

News Stories, 26 July 2007

© UNHCR

GENEVA, 26 July (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Thursday expressed deep concern about reports the Turkish authorities have forcibly returned 135 Iraqis to their country, although some may have been seeking asylum.

Taking into consideration the current situation in Iraq, UNHCR said it is extremely concerned for their safety. No information is currently available on their whereabouts.

Last December, UNHCR issued an advisory recommending that countries should not forcibly return any Iraqi from central or southern Iraq until there was a substantial improvement in security and human rights in the country. It also said people should not be returned to the three Northern Governorates if they do not originate from there.

The 135 were apprehended in Urla near the city of Izmir earlier this month as part of a larger group of some 500 people most of them Iraqis, Palestinians, Sri Lankans and Afghans who were about to depart Turkey irregularly.

"UNHCR understands that some of the deported persons 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," UNHCR said in a statement. "Refoulement is explicitly prohibited by the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and it is also contrary to international customary law."

In addition to seeking urgent clarification from the government of Turkey on the events surrounding the deportation, and further information on the fate of the deportees, UNHCR said it has sought assurances that in the future people needing international protection will be treated in full respect of Turkey's international and national legal obligations.

At the same time, UNHCR requested that Turkey admit into the asylum procedure the claims of those in the remaining group who expressed fear to return to their country of origin. UNHCR said it was pleased that Turkey has agreed to conduct a joint screening exercise with UNHCR to identify those in the group who wish to apply for asylum.

On 18 December 2006, UNHCR issued an advisory on the international protection needs of Iraqis outside Iraq, which was shared with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey. UNHCR noted the overall situation in Iraq was characterized by generalized violence in which massive, targeted violations of human rights are prevalent.

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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

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Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

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