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Iraq: UN refugee agency calls for continued ban on forced returns

Iraq: UN refugee agency calls for continued ban on forced returns

Faced with the volatile situation in Iraq, the absence of law and order in many areas, the lack of basic services, the high rate of unemployment and a severe housing shortage, the United Nations refugee agency today reiterated its call for a ban on forced returns to the country, including that of rejected asylum seekers.

“We are recommending States that have resumed or intend to resume the processing of asylum claims to take into consideration compelling reasons for non-return of rejected asylum seekers due to both atrocious forms of past persecution, as well as the possibility of persecution by non-state agents currently active in Iraq,” a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman told a briefing in Geneva.

“The humanitarian situation is also an important consideration,” spokesman Rupert Colville said. “A majority of Iraq's population remains dependent upon food aid, medical supplies and other items long distributed under the UN Oil-for-Food programme. This aid network is shortly due to be phased into a new Iraqi-led structure, creating further uncertainty for many Iraqis during this unstable period.”

Mr. Colville added the evacuation of all international UN staff from Baghdad had significantly curtailed UNHCR’s ability to monitor returns and undertake reintegration activities.

“For these reasons as well as the volatile security environment and uncertain humanitarian situation inside Iraq, we believe that returns should not be promoted at this time,” he added. “UNHCR recognizes the right of Iraqis to return to Iraq, and while not promoting repatriation, we assist, as and where feasible, those who wish to return on a voluntary basis.”

He called on States to continue granting temporary forms of protection to Iraqis abroad, including newly arrived asylum seekers, until further notice.