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Iraq not ready to receive returnees

Iraq not ready to receive returnees, says UN refugee agency

Noting that the security situation in much of Iraq has shown no improvement and has actually deteriorated in many places compared to the same period a year ago, the United Nations refugee agency today urged countries hosting Iraqi émigrés to keep processing asylum cases and not promote returns.

“Despite the January 2005 elections in Iraq, authorities are not yet able to protect citizens from violent attacks, including those specifically targeting civilians in southern and central Iraq, nor can access to basic services needed for a secure and stable life be guaranteed,” Ron Redmond, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in Geneva, citing the agency’s latest advisory regarding the return of Iraqis to their homeland.

Premature returns, in fact, could worsen tensions between residents and returnees, thereby increasing insecurity, he added.

“Thus, UNHCR encourages governments to postpone the introduction of measures which are intended to promote or induce voluntary returns for persons originating from southern or central Iraq,” he said.

For those asylum-seekers who are not recognised as refugees, some form of protection in keeping with international human rights principles should be given, he said, and asylum countries are urged to continue conducting refugee status determination for vulnerable individuals, especially for those with serious protection problems.

According to its advisory, UNHCR has slightly adjusted its position towards return to the three northern governorates – Suleymaniah, Dohuk and Erbil – where acts of violence are far less frequent as compared to the rest of the country, and a certain level of political stability, despite the fragile economy and security, has been achieved.

Voluntary return of Iraqis originating from these three northern governorates is now deemed feasible, provided that the returnees have family and community links that can ensure their access to protection, housing and other basic services.

It is estimated that between 2003 and 2005, more than 253,000 people returned to Iraq from a variety of countries. A total of 23,074 Iraqis who chose to voluntarily return from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and other countries were assisted by UNHCR, the agency said.

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