UNHCR concerned at continuing deportations of Iraqis from Europe

UNHCR objects to the continuing forced returns of Iraqi citizens from Western European countries soon after 61 people are flown back to Baghdad.

Two Iraqis mull their future in a European city.  © UNHCR/B.Szandelszky

GENEVA, September 3 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Friday objected to the continuing forced returns of Iraqi citizens from Western European countries soon after 61 people were flown back to Baghdad.

Spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva that UNHCR was "very concerned' about the returns. The 61 on Wednesday's chartered flight were mainly Iraqis who had been residing in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom. UNHCR has not been able to confirm reports that three Iranians were among those on board.

UNHCR's guidelines for Iraq ask governments not to forcibly return people originating from the governorates of Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salah Al-din, in view of the serious human rights violations and continuing security incidents in these areas.

"Our position is that Iraqi asylum applicants originating from these five governorates should benefit from international protection in the form of refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention or an alternative form of protection," Edwards said in Geneva's Palais des Nations.

UNHCR considers that serious risks, including indiscriminate threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from violence or events seriously disturbing public order, are valid reasons for international protection.

Some of the individuals among the group returned on Wednesday may be destined for safer areas such as the Kurdistan Region in the north, others may have elected to return voluntarily.

"Nonetheless, of the 11 individuals we were able to interview on arrival, some originated from Baghdad and at least one person was a Christian from Mosul, in the governorate of Ninewa," Edwards said, adding: "The security situation in that governorate remains extremely volatile."

Similarly in the Baghdad governorate, the security situation remains unstable with increased attacks and several recent major security incidents. On August 25, for example, a series of coordinated attacks throughout the country, including suicide bombs, left 62 people dead and 250 wounded. Car explosions, roadside bombs, mortar attacks and kidnapping remain daily threats for Iraqis.

"We strongly urge European governments to provide Iraqis with protection until the situation in their areas of origin in Iraq allows for safe and voluntary returns. In this critical time of transition, we also encourage all efforts to develop conditions in Iraq that are conducive to sustainable and voluntary return," Edwards said.

The continuing violence in Iraq has resulted in large-scale internal and external displacement of the Iraqi population. More than 1.5 million people remain displaced within the country while hundreds of thousands of others have found refuge in neighbouring countries, mainly in Syria and Jordan.

UNHCR is concerned about the signal that forced returns from Western Europe could give to Iraq's neighbours, which, despite a score of national priorities, are hosting large numbers of Iraqi refugees.