The United Nations refugee agency today voiced its concern at reports that the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom are arranging deportations of Iraqi citizens back to Baghdad, Kirkuk and other violence-prone areas later this week.
Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva that asylum applicants originating from Iraq’s governorates of Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa and Salah-al-Din, as well as from Kirkuk province, should continue to benefit from international protection.
This should take the form of refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention or another form of protection depending on the circumstances of the case, she added.
“Our position reflects the volatile security situation and the still high level of prevailing violence, security incidents, and human rights violations taking place in these parts of Iraq,” said Ms. Fleming.
UNHCR, she stated, considers that serious – including indiscriminate – threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from violence or events seriously disturbing public order are valid reasons for international protection.
The agency has not received confirmed information of the number and profile of those individuals who may be forcibly returned and whether some have requested protection.
It also urges asylum authorities in Europe and elsewhere to ensure that the situation in Iraq is taken into consideration when assessing the international protection needs of Iraqis.
According to a UNHCR report published last October, Iraqis topped the list of the growing number of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries in 2009, just ahead of people from war-torn Afghanistan and Somalia fleeing their countries.
The agency noted that the continued insurgency in Iraq and ongoing violence there has led to large-scale internal and external displacement, with most refugees living in Syria and Jordan.
“UNHCR is concerned about the signal that forced returns from Europe could give to other host countries,