Cablegate: Iraqi Refugees Turn World Refugee Day Celebration

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) UNHCR's June 20 World Refugee Day celebration --
titled "A Place to Call Home" -- took an unexpectedly
political turn when Iraqi refugees turned a speech and poetry
reading into a fiery rejection of voluntary repatriation and
an emotional call for resettlement outside the region.
UNHCR's celebration began with carefully worded speeches by
the Jordan and Iraq Heads of Mission that focused on the High
Commissioner's "Four R's" Program: repatriation,
reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction. The
subtext of both speeches was that, although Iraq remains a
troubled place, voluntary repatriation is emerging as the
only durable solution for Iraqi refugees and one that UNHCR
will promote once security conditions warrant.

2. (U) UNHCR's volrep message did not go over well with the
100 or so Iraqi refugees present at the celebration. In
remarks following the UNHCR officials' speeches, Iraqi
refugee Muslim Al Taan flatly rejected UNHCR's "Four R's."
For Iraqi refugees, Al Taan proclaimed, there are four very
different R's: resettlement, resettlement, resettlement,
resettlement! By name, Al Taan called upon the nine
resettlement countries to do their part and accept for
resettlement the Iraqi refugees who have been languishing in
limbo since September 2001. With an angry plea for "God's
justice," Taan cried "Let us live in freedom! No to
voluntary repatriation!" Refugees throughout the audience
picked up the refrain, jumping to their feet to shout and
raise their fists along with Taan. One refugee rushed to the
stage and began pounding his head on the floor before being
restrained by an official from the cultural center.

3. (U) After five emotional minutes of angry protests
rocking the cultural center, the refugees quieted down and
shifted their attention to a poetry reading that, somewhat
ironically, celebrated the beauty and wonder of the very
country to which the refugees refuse to return. Uneasy
representatives from the UN, GOJ and resettlement countries
(including the Canadian ambassador, U.S. refcoord and refugee
admissions specialists) took the opportunity to slip out of
the event. UNHCR officials later expressed anger at the
refugees and community services implementing partner CARE for
letting the event spiral out of control, never acknowledging
that UNHCR itself should have taken greater responsibility
for the celebration.

4. (SBU) Comment: The refugee day event highlights the
growing frustration felt by both Iraqi refugees and UNHCR
officials over this caseload's continuing uncertainties.
Resettlement countries have kept Iraqis on hold since
September 2001, as they reviewed post-9/11 security practices
and then changing conditions in Iraq itself. Since the fall
of Saddam's regime, deteriorating security conditions have
prevented UNHCR from lifting the voluntary protection order
or promoting voluntary repatriation to Iraq, while
resettlement countries continue to keep their programs on
hold. The result is an increasingly angry refugee population
that desperately wants to call any place but Iraq home and
blames UNHCR for its uncertain future. Decisions from major
resettlement countries, including the U.S., regarding the
Iraqis already in the pipeline, would help ease these
pressures. Iraqis constitute the vast majority of UNHCR's
caseload in Jordan; 73 cases remain candidates for the U.S.
resettlement program.

5. (U) CPA Baghdad minimize considered.

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