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Iraqi asylum seekers: UNHCR asks for halt in forced returns

Briefing notes

Iraqi asylum seekers: UNHCR asks for halt in forced returns

11 March 2003

UNHCR is asking governments to temporarily halt the forced return of rejected Iraqi asylum seekers for an initial period of three months, given the tense situation and risk of armed conflict in Iraq. During this interim period, we're also advising governments that all Iraqis outside their homeland should be given appropriate complementary forms of protection.

More than 51,000 Iraqis claimed asylum worldwide last year, forming by far the largest single group of asylum seekers in industrialised countries; Yugoslavs formed the next largest group, numbering only 33,000. 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). Certainly, Iraqi asylum seekers are not limited to Europe, as thousands approach our offices in countries surrounding Iraq every year seeking UNHCR's protection and assistance.

Until now, UNHCR had recommended a ban on the return of rejected Iraqi asylum seekers to government-controlled areas, unless the return was voluntary.

In all there are some 400,000 recognized Iraqi refugees worldwide, with more than half living in Iran. Hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis are believed to be living outside their home country, without claiming asylum.