UNHCR urges states to grant temporary protection to Iraqis
GENEVA, March 26 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has distributed new guidelines to governments advising that asylum claims from individual Iraqi citizens not be processed for an initial period of three months, during which Iraqis should instead be granted temporary protection.
The guidelines were forwarded to all governments and non-governmental organisations this week by UNHCR's Department of International Protection.
The UN refugee agency is doing everything it possibly can to assure international protection and assistance to any refugees in countries neighbouring Iraq. So far there has been no substantial movement in the region. But in the event of a major influx, considerable numbers of Iraqis could move on to third countries because of family or other links.
In a separate March 7 memorandum, UNHCR had already urged asylum countries to halt forced returns of Iraqis. Now the agency' s legal experts are advising a suspension of individual asylum procedures, both of pending cases and new arrivals, and the granting of temporary protection instead.
Within the framework of international solidarity and burden-sharing, UNHCR said, Iraqi asylum seekers should not be returned to countries in the conflict region either, because a possible major influx of Iraqis could put major strains on these neighbouring states.
UNHCR said it will also keep under active consideration a possible proposal to the European Union on activating an EC directive (2001/55/EC) on minimum standards for giving temporary protection in the event of a mass influx.
More than 51,000 Iraqis claimed asylum worldwide last year, forming by far the largest single group of asylum seekers in industrialised countries. The top five industrialised countries receiving asylum requests from Iraqis during 2002 were the United Kingdom (14,900), Germany (10,400), Sweden (5,400), Austria (4,600) and Greece (2,600). Iraqis are one of the largest refugee groups worldwide. At the beginning of 2002, some 400,000 Iraqi refugees were spread across some 90 countries.
"Temporary protection" is a collective protection scheme granted for whole groups of asylum seekers. It is usually applied when mass movements of refugees occur whose reasons for flight are obvious. It then proves impractical and time consuming to verify those refugees on a case-by-case basis.