Iraq still volatile, so Iraqis abroad need continued protection, says UNHCR
GENEVA, Nov 14 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency today reiterated its call for governments to continue protecting Iraqi asylum seekers abroad, citing the volatile situation, fragile humanitarian structure and possibility of persecution in Iraq as "compelling reasons" against forced returns.
UNHCR first made the appeal in March this year, before the conflict broke out in Iraq. On Friday, the agency re-emphasised the point, advising governments to continue a ban on forced returns to Iraq until further notice. It also recommended that governments maintain a suspension on individual asylum procedures - both of pending cases and new arrivals - and continue granting them temporary protection instead.
"The situation in Iraq remains volatile, with an absence of law and order in many parts of the country. The provision of basic services remains irregular, and there is a high rate of unemployment and a severe housing shortage," said UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville at a news briefing in Geneva Friday.
Specifically, Colville cautioned states that are resuming the processing of Iraqi asylum claims against returning rejected asylum seekers who had suffered persecution in the past or may suffer persecution by non-state agents now active in Iraq.
Politics aside, he also pointed to the fragile humanitarian situation in Iraq, where the majority of the population have long depended on handouts of food, medicine and other items from the Oil-for-Food Programme. When this source of aid is incorporated into the new Iraqi-led structure, it may create further uncertainty for many Iraqis during these unstable times.
At the same time, UNHCR's ability to monitor returns and undertake reintegration activities has been curtailed by the evacuation of its international staff following the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad on August 19.
Despite the conditions at home, some Iraqis in the region have gone back since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April. They include more than 2,500 Iraqi refugees who have returned from Saudi Arabia's Rafha camp in recent months.
"UNHCR recognises the right of Iraqis to return to Iraq, and while not promoting repatriation, we assist, as and where feasible, those who wish to return on a voluntary basis despite the currently prevailing conditions," said Colville.