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Updated UNHCR advisory on the return of Iraqis

Briefing notes

Updated UNHCR advisory on the return of Iraqis

27 September 2005

UNHCR has just issued its latest advisory regarding the return of Iraqis to their homeland. These advisories are issued periodically by UNHCR to provide governments with recommendations and guidance for specific populations and countries.

Noting that the security situation in much of Iraq has shown no improvement and has actually deteriorated in many places compared to the same period a year ago, UNHCR is concerned that some states are considering the withdrawal of protection afforded generally to asylum seekers from Iraq and that recognition rates in some host countries are extremely low.

The advisory notes that despite the January 2005 elections in Iraq, authorities are not yet able to protect citizens from violent attacks, including those specifically targeting civilians in southern and central Iraq, nor can access to basic services needed for a secure and stable life be guaranteed. It notes additionally that premature returns could worsen tensions between residents and returnees, thereby increasing insecurity.

Thus, UNHCR encourages governments to postpone the introduction of measures which are intended to promote or induce voluntary returns for persons originating from southern or central Iraq. Security conditions and absorption capacities for sustainable return should be in place before people are returned. Similarly, for those asylum seekers, who are not recognised as refugees, some form of protection in keeping with international human rights principles should be given.

Asylum countries are urged to continue conducting refugee status determination for vulnerable individuals, especially for those with serious protection problems. Iraqi asylum seekers should not be rejected simply because they could possibly move elsewhere inside Iraq. Relocation elsewhere can be very risky because of the security constraints in many areas in Iraq. National protection as well as basic services and facilities - and in particular housing - are absent in many places, especially for those without any family or community links.

UNHCR has slightly adjusted its position towards return to the three northern governorates - Sulaymaniyah, Dohuk and Erbil - where acts of violence are far less frequent as compared to the rest of the country, and a certain level of political stability, despite the fragile economy and security, has been achieved. Voluntary return of Iraqis originating from these three Northern Governorates is now deemed feasible, provided that the returnees have family and community links that can ensure their access to protection, housing and other basic services.

It is estimated that between 2003 and 2005, more than 253,000 people returned to Iraq, most of them spontaneously. A total of 23,074 Iraqis who chose to voluntarily return from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and other countries were assisted by UNHCR.