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Iraq: UNHCR requests extension of moratorium on forcible returns

Briefing notes

Iraq: UNHCR requests extension of moratorium on forcible returns

4 July 2003

We are calling on governments to extend, for at least one additional month, a deportation moratorium on forcible returns of rejected Iraqi asylum seekers. The moratorium was initially instituted in March for a provisional three-month period. We are also requesting states to maintain the provision of temporary protection for Iraqis, as well as the suspension of decisions on asylum claims.

UNHCR staff, led by the High Commissioner's Special Envoy for Iraq, Dennis McNamara, are currently conducting a review of the situation in Iraq and the feasibility of returns. While that review is not yet complete, preliminary assessment indicates that the situation is still unsettled, with a dangerous security environment in many parts of the country and a high incidence of violent crime. A large part of the population is still dependent upon food aid and other assistance. There is an absence of functioning legal and judicial structures, and a complex situation with regard to property rights.

Today, McNamara is seeing Ambassador Paul Bremer to discuss a number of issues, including imminent returns from Iran and the repatriation of a group of refugees from Saudi Arabia's Rafha camp, where some 400 refugees of the more than 5,200 in the camp are seeking to speedily return home. They will also review the humanitarian crisis facing Palestinian refugees in Baghdad who were evicted from their houses and are now squatting in a tented camp in the middle of the Iraqi capital.

Three benchmarks have to be met before Iraq will be able to absorb large-scale return movements: basic security must be ensured by the Coalition Provisional Authority; a border monitoring system must be in place; and basic services have to be available, such as water, electricity, and medical care.

The UNHCR special envoy's findings will be reviewed as soon as his mission is completed, and they will be shared with the governments in order to help them determine their policy on Iraqi asylum seekers.

Several thousand Iraqis are already believed to have returned spontaneously, and some refugees in neighbouring countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are very eager to repatriate. As they have indicated that they are prepared to cross borders spontaneously. While in general UNHCR is not involved in the spontaneous returns. However, on an exceptional basis, McNamara has negotiated with the government of Iran and with the Iraqi side to start a mutual repatriation of small groups of refugees between the two countries.