UN chief announces 100,000 landmark in resettlement of Iraqi refugees

AL HASSAKEH - UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, announced today a major landmark in resettlement of Iraqi refugees, with 100,000 people having been referred for resettlement from the Middle East to third countries since 2007. Guterres made the announcement during his visit to Syria, which according to government estimates, hosts over 1 million refugees, the majority from Iraq.

"100,000 submissions of Iraqi refugees is a tremendous achievement. Many have been living in limbo for years. This will increasingly be the case if states don't continue to welcome Iraqi refugees for resettlement," said Guterres.

Lengthy security checks and the time it has taken for state processing mechanisms to be established have led to considerable delays in the departure of refugees to their new homes. Of the 100,000 submissions of Iraqi refugees since 2007, the number of departures up to May 2010 was around 50 percent, or 52,173 individuals. In 2007 around 3,500 Iraqis departed for third countries from the region.

"I call on countries to facilitate the speedy departure of refugees they have accepted for resettlement," said Guterres.

Approximately 45 percent of Iraqi refugees submitted for resettlement live in Syria, totaling 43,223 individuals. The acceptance rate by resettlement countries of UNHCR's referrals currently stands at 80 percent of total submissions, of which the largest number, nearly 76 percent, have been accepted by the United States.

UNHCR's 2009 Global Trends report highlights the fact that Iraqis are the second largest refugee group in the world, with an estimated 1.8 million seeking refuge primarily in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey. Voluntary repatriation worldwide in 2009 was at its lowest point in twenty years, with around 251,500 returns, of which only 38,000 were Iraqi.

"The growing resilience of conflict results in a larger proportion of refugees who are unable to return to their homes," said Guterres, noting that major conflicts in Afghanistan, southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo show no signs of being resolved, while "conflicts that we had hoped were on their way to being resolved are stagnating."

The High Commissioner is in Syria to commemorate World Refugee Day on June 20. This is the first time that this global event is hosted in the Middle East. On June 18th at 15:00 GMT he will join an event hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington D.C. via a live video feed from Al Hassakeh, a Syrian province neighbouring Iraq. He will also link with China, Malaysia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador and UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

Highlights from World Refugee Day 2010 activities, including the live feed on 18th and 20th June, can be found at www.unhcr.org.