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UN refugee agency warns governments against returning Iraqis home

UN refugee agency warns governments against returning Iraqis home

Renewing a call on states to refrain from forcibly returning Iraqis to their country, the UN refugee agency says the situation in Iraq remains extremely unstable and dangerous.
22 October 2004
Iraqi Minister for Displacement and Migration, Pascale Sorya Isho Warda, meets with High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers during a recent visit in Geneva.

GENEVA, Oct. 22 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has issued an advisory saying the situation in Iraq remains extremely unstable and dangerous and renewed a call on States to refrain from forcibly returning any Iraqis to their homeland.

"No part of Iraq can be considered entirely safe for the time being," UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville said Friday, "although some areas of the country are more stable than others, this can change very rapidly from one region to the next."

Since the start of the hostilities early last year, UNHCR has issued regular advice to States, requesting them to wait until the situation in Iraq stabilises before sending back rejected asylum seekers. UNHCR listed around 421,000 Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers in 2002. This figure includes some 200,000 refugees in Iran, of whom 70,000 had gone back to Iraq over the past year.

"UNHCR notes with concern that in the past six months, there has been a growing trend to target Iraqi civilians working for international organisations, as well as people associated, or perceived to be associated, with the Interim Iraqi Government, including government officials themselves, a number of whom have been killed. Members of the Iraqi police forces, but also doctors, journalists, artists and intellectuals, have all become frequent targets of both harassment and violence by non-state agents," the advisory said.

Moreover, while the security situation in Baghdad is widely recognised as volatile, there has been a degradation of the security situation in many other cities, including Diala, Erbil, Fallujah, Kirkuk, Mosul and Sulaymaniyah. Fewer NGOs are operating in Iraq and UNHCR has no international presence in the country, making it impossible to monitor cases of persecution on the ground. This is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future, the advisory said.

Furthermore, the Iraqi Ministry for Displacement and Migration is still in the process of building up its own operational capacity. The new Minister for Displacement and Migration recently visited several European capitals to reiterate her plea to host countries not to place an additional burden on Iraq by rushing or forcing Iraqis to repatriate in the present circumstances.

"In the light of the current situation, UNHCR not only asks States to suspend all forcible returns to Iraq, but also insists that governments should not introduce any measures providing an incentive to repatriation - be it financial grants to encourage departure, or punitive rules as a deterrent to stay in the host country," the statement said.

In the current climate of increasing violence, the advisory also requested that States pay particular attention to asylum claims from Iraqi nationals. Despite the regime change in Iraq, people targeted by non-state agents because of their political affiliations, religious belief, or other motives, may be in need of international protection and thus merit the status of refugees. This is particularly so since the authorities in Iraq are currently unable to ensure the safety of all Iraqi citizens.