UN refugee agency exceeds 20,000 resettlement target for Iraqi refugees
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced today that it had topped its target of 20,000 Iraqi resettlement referrals for 2007.
As of 7 December, the agency had transferred the files of 20,472 of the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees to be considered for resettlement by 16 countries: the United States, Australia, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, Ireland, Brazil, Chile, Finland, Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain and Germany.
The largest number of files – 14,798 – has been submitted to the US, followed by Australia, Canada, Sweden and New Zealand as the top receiving countries.
“With three weeks to go before the end of the year, we are, however, extremely concerned about the low rate of departures to date,” said Vincent Cochetel, Deputy Director of UNHCR’s Division of International Protection.
As of 1 December, 4,575 Iraqis – slightly less than one-quarter of the total referred cases – had left for resettlement countries. Of those who have been resettled, the largest number is in the US.
“UNHCR has consistently encouraged resettlement countries to speed up their procedures to enable the most vulnerable Iraqis to depart as soon as possible,” the agency said in a press release.
Several categories of people are considered for resettlement, including torture victims, women at risk, urgent medical cases, households headed by women, and members of minority groups. UNHCR estimates there are some 80,000 to 100,000 extremely vulnerable Iraqi refugees in the Middle East needing to be resettled.
However, the agency noted that realistically, only a small fraction of the most vulnerable can be considered for resettlement to third countries.
Over 4.5 million Iraqis are uprooted, with 2.4 million within the country’s borders and nearly 2.2 million in other nations such as Syria and Jordan.
“The security situation inside Iraq remains a concern and at this stage UNHCR is not promoting return to the country,” said Radhouane Nouicer, UNHCR Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“We all hope that the situation in the country will continue to improve. Pending this improvement, resettlement will remain one of the solutions for the most vulnerable and exposed Iraqi refugees.”
While the agency has the capacity to submit another 25,000 Iraqi cases for resettlement, this depends on firm commitments from resettlement countries to accept them.
Meanwhile, UNHCR voiced concern over an estimated 13,000 Palestinians residing in Iraq under the agency’s mandate. Those in Baghdad are under constant threat, while Palestinians living in makeshift border camps are reporting increasing physical attacks and harassment.
“In view of their dire condition and the difficulty they have in escaping Iraq, UNHCR feels that humanitarian relocation to places of safety is their best option,” the agency said.
But to date, only Sudan, Chile and a few other nations have indicated they are willing to help the Palestinians in Iraq.