The United Nations refugee agency is calling on the European Union (EU) to reaffirm its commitment to protect Iraqi refugees ahead of its meeting of Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs later this week.
Nearly 40,000 Iraqis applied for asylum in 27 EU member states last year, and some 16,000 have put forward their applications in the first seven months of 2008, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Roughly 2 million Iraqis remain uprooted in Syria, Jordan and other countries in the region.
Earlier this month at a conference on asylum convened by the French presidency, High Commissioner António Guterres voiced hope that the majority of Iraqi refugees will be able to return to their home country once stability and security have been bolstered. But the security environment is still precarious, especially in central and southern Iraq.
“We hope that the Ministers of Justice and Home Affairs will commit the European Union to participation in organized resettlement efforts,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told reporters in Geneva today. “At present, only a minority of the 27 EU member states have implemented resettlement programmes.”
The agency has resettled 14,600 Iraqi refugees from Syria, Jordan and other regional nations between last April and this month; the United States has admitted nearly two-thirds of them, with just 10 per cent being taken in by EU countries.
UNHCR is also appealing for the resettlement of 3,000 Palestinian refugees – including a large number of women and children – who have fled Iraq. Only 300 of them have been resettled to date, with only 47 to EU member states.