A drop off in levels of violence in some parts of Iraq has allowed the United Nations refugee agency to revise its guidelines on eligibility for those seeking asylum.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously advised that all Iraqis from the central and southern governorates be considered refugees.
In its latest recommendations, the agency believes that the international protection needs for those originating from Al-Anbar, encompassing much of the country’s western territory, and the south should be assessed on individual merit.
However, UNHCR advises favourable consideration for people belonging to specific groups from these areas which have been identified as at risk, including members of religious and ethnic minorities; Iraqis perceived as opposing armed groups or political factions; Iraqis affiliated with the multinational forces or foreign companies; media workers; UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) workers; human rights activists; and homosexuals.
The agency also stressed that ongoing violence, conflict and human rights violations in most of the central governorates of Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salah Al-Din places asylum-seekers from these areas in continued need for international protection.
UNHCR estimates that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, mainly in Syria and Jordan but also in Lebanon, Egypt and others, with over 40,000 asylum applications made in industrialized countries last year alone.
The agency stressed that improvement in the situation in Iraq is not yet sufficient enough to promote or encourage massive returns and it recommended that refugees already benefiting from international protection should retain their status.
In a related development, an Iraqi ministry has pledged $30 million for projects aimed at improving the lives of children in rural marshland areas.
With a 34 per cent illiteracy rate among women living in marshlands, compared to 24 per cent nationally, and school enrolment at least 30 per cent lower than in urban areas, and around 80 per cent of households not connected to the general water network, the marshlands has some of the worst development indicators in Iraq.