The United Nations refugee agency has raised concerns about the protection of refugees and asylum seekers along Iraq's borders after Syria deported dozens of Iraqis for "security" reasons.
"We are aware of the complexity of the situation," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers said in a statement yesterday in Geneva. "But we insist that the basic norms of international refugee law, including exclusion criteria, be observed by all concerned parties."
On Monday, UNHCR officials in Syria reported that Syrian security forces took 32 Iraqi refugees – including 23 children – out of El Hol camp in northeastern Syria and moved them to the Iraqi side of the border. A similar incident occurred on 13 April, when 12 people were removed from the camp and transported back to Iraq. Both groups were residents of Tikrit, hometown and stronghold of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Syrian authorities cited "security concerns" when questioned on the move. While UNHCR acknowledged the host nations' security concerns and the pressure they were under to refuse sanctuary to Saddam loyalists, it stressed that this does not remove legal obligations to give safe haven to asylum seekers and refugees.
Under its so-called "exclusion clause," the provisions of the 1951 Refugee Convention do not apply when there are serious reasons for considering that an individual has committed a crime against peace, a war crime or a crime against humanity; has committed a serious non-political crime outside the country of refuge prior to admission; or has been guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Syria's El Hol camp currently hosts 168 Iraqi refugees.