UNHCR cautions against European deportations to Iraq

Briefing Notes, 8 June 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 June 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR understands that four governments the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK are arranging an enforced removal of Iraqi citizens to Baghdad, Iraq later this week. We have not received confirmed information of the number and profile of those individuals and whether some have requested protection

Our position and advice to governments is that Iraqi asylum applicants originating from Iraq's governorates of Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa and Salah-al-Din, as well as from Kirkuk province, should continue to benefit from international protection in the form of refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention or another form of protection depending on the circumstances of the case. Our position reflects the volatile security situation and the still high level of prevailing violence, security incidents, and human rights violations taking place in these parts of Iraq. UNHCR considers that serious including indiscriminate threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from violence or events seriously disturbing public order are valid reasons for international protection.

UNHCR appreciates that the international protection needs of Iraqis are assessed by asylum authorities in Europe and elsewhere on an individual basis. We urge those authorities to ensure that the situation in Iraq as a whole, including the important level of lawlessness, is factored into their assessments. While some have proposed that returned Iraqis could reside in other parts of the country from where they originate, UNHCR's position is that no internal flight alternative exists in Iraq because of the on-going levels of violence in Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salah Al-Din, and in view of access and residency restrictions in various governorates as well as the hardship faced by returnees in ensuring even survival in areas of relocation.

The continued insurgency in Iraq and on-going violence there has led to large scale internal and external displacement of the Iraqi population, with most refugees living in Syria and Jordan. UNHCR is concerned about the signal that forced returns from Europe could give to other host countries, particularly those neighbouring Iraq.

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Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Tens of thousands of people have fled to Erbil and Duhok governorates in Iraq's Kurdistan region over the past week, sheltering in schools, mosques, churches and temporary camps following a surge of violence in parts of central and northern Iraq. UNHCR and its partners have been working to meet the urgent shelter needs. The refugee agency has delivered close to 1,000 tents to a transit camp being built by the authorities and NGOs at Garmawa, near Duhok.

Many of the people arriving from Mosul at checkpoints between Ninewa and governorate and Iraq's Kurdistan region have limited resources and cannot afford to pay for shelter. Some people stay with family, while others are staying in hotels and using up their meagre funds.

In the village of Alqosh, some 150 people from 20 families, with little more than the clothes on their back, have been living in several overcrowded classrooms in a primary school for the past week. One member of the group said they had lived in a rented apartment in Mosul and led a normal family life. But in Alqosh, they feared for the welfare and education of their children and the presence of snakes and scorpions.

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

In the past few days, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled fighting in the northern city of Mosul and other areas. UNHCR staff are on the ground to monitor the outflow and help those in need. The needs are immense, but UNHCR is working to provide shelter, protection, and emergency items, including tents. Many of the displaced left their homes without belongings and some lack money for housing, food, water or medical care. They arrive at checkpoints between Ninewa governorate and the Kurdistan region with no idea of where to go next, or how to pay expenses.

UN agencies, humanitarian groups, and government officials are coordinating efforts to do what they can to aid those in need. UN agencies are making an emergency request for additional support. UNHCR is hoping to provide emergency kits as well as thousands of tents. UNHCR and its partners will also be working to protect and help the displaced.

The exodus in the north comes on top of massive displacement this year in the western Iraqi governorate of Anbar, where fighting since January has forced some half-a-million people to flee the province or seek shelter in safer areas.

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Three days after giving birth to her fourth child, a girl she named Hawler, Peroz concluded that the situation in her hometown of Hassake, Syria, was too dangerous for her children. She decided to make the difficult journey to northern Iraq. Along the way, she and Hawler were sick. "I was terrified the baby might die," said Peroz, 27.

Although the border was closed, guards felt compassion for the newborn child and let Peroz's family enter. A few days later Peroz and her children were reunited with their father and now they are living with hundreds of other refugees in a small park on the outskirts of Erbil.

Battling mosquitoes and soaring daytime temperatures, and with little more than blankets for comfort and a breakfast of bread and cheese for nourishment, Peroz and her husband hope to be transferred to a new tented settlement.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of Syrians have flooded into northern Iraq, fleeing violence. With existing camps at full capacity, many refugee families are finding shelter anywhere they can. The local government has started transferring people from Qushtapa Park to a nearby camp. UNHCR is registering the refugees, as well as providing tents and life-saving assistance.

An Infant's Journey to Safety

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Shareef fled to Iraq a year ago to escape the violence in Syria. He opened a bakery, which has done great business. When he heard about a new wave of displacement in northern Iraq in August, he decided to help those in need by providing bread.
Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in KhankePlay video

Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in Khanke

A new camp for displaced people is taking shape in the village of Khanke in Iraq's Kurdistan region, with the help of UNHCR and its partners. After weeks of uncomfortable living in the courtyard of an old public building, Chenar and her ethnic Yazidi family are looking forward to moving to the new facility.