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UNHCR urges reinforced EU commitment to protection of Iraqi refugees

Briefing notes

UNHCR urges reinforced EU commitment to protection of Iraqi refugees

23 September 2008

UNHCR urges the European Union Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs, at their meeting in Brussels on 25 September, to reaffirm their commitment to the protection of Iraqi refugees and to agree on the establishment of an EU resettlement programme.

In 2007, a total of 38,500 Iraqis applied for asylum in the 27 EU member states. The number of applications during the first seven months of 2008 was approximately 16,000. The main receiving countries during those seven months were Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Elsewhere in Europe, Turkey and Norway received significant numbers. An estimated 2 million uprooted Iraqis remain in Syria, Jordan and other countries in the region.

On September 8-9 in Paris, High Commissioner António Guterres told a Conference on Asylum convened by the French EU Presidency that UNHCR hopes that the majority of Iraqi refugees will be able to return home in safety once the necessary conditions of stability and security are established. However, these conditions are not yet present. The security environment remains precarious, particularly in Central and Southern Iraq, where issues relating to shelter and property restitution or compensation have yet to be solved. In addition, access by returnees to public distribution systems and other services remains limited. UNHCR therefore appeals to asylum countries to extend protection to Iraqis who originate from Central and Southern Iraq and to refrain from forcible returns to these regions at this time.

UNHCR still needs resettlement places for particularly vulnerable refugees from Iraq, as well as for Palestinian refugees who fled Iraq. We hope that the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs will commit the European Union to participation in organised resettlement efforts. At present, only a minority of the 27 EU member states have implemented resettlement programmes.

Between April 2007 and mid-September 2008, UNHCR resettled 14,600 Iraqi refugees from Syria, Jordan and other countries in the region. The United States admitted over 60 percent of them, with just 10 percent taken in by EU countries.

In addition, UNHCR is appealing for resettlement places for some 3,000 Palestinian refugees who have fled Iraq and remain stranded in very difficult conditions. This group includes a large number of women and children. Just over 300 of these refugees have been resettled to date - 47 of them to EU member states.