The United Nations said today that 100,000 Iraqi refugees have been referred for resettlement from the Middle East to third countries since 2007, a major milestone for one of the world’s largest refugee populations.
“100,000 submissions of Iraqi refugees is a tremendous achievement,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said today during his visit to Syria, which according to government estimates, hosts over 1 million refugees, the majority from Iraq.
“Many have been living in limbo for years. This will increasingly be the case if States don’t continue to welcome Iraqi refugees for resettlement,” said Mr. Guterres, who is in Syria to mark World Refugee Day on 20 June – the first time that the event is hosted in the Middle East.
The acceptance rate by resettlement countries of referrals by the UN refugee agency, known as UNHCR, currently stands at 80 per cent of total submissions, of which the largest number, nearly 76 per cent, have been accepted by the United States.
Of the 100,000 submissions for resettlement of Iraqi refugees since 2007, the number of departures up to May 2010 was around 50 per cent, or 52,173 individuals. In 2007 around 3,500 Iraqis departed for third countries from the region.
UNHCR attributes the delays in the departure of refugees to their new homes to lengthy security checks and the time it has taken to set up state processing mechanisms.
Mr. Guterres called on countries to facilitate the speedy departure of refugees they have accepted for resettlement.
Iraqis are the second largest refugee group in the world, with an estimated 1.8 million seeking refuge primarily in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, according to UNHCR’s 2009 Global Trends report.
In a related development, UNHCR today reiterated that Iraqi asylum-seekers originating from the five central Iraqi Governorates, including Baghdad, should not be sent back due to security concerns.
The agency is looking into accounts of mistreatment among the rejected asylum-seekers who were forcibly returned yesterday from the United Kingdom by the country’s border agency, UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told reporters in Geneva.
UNHCR lawyers in Baghdad interviewed 14 of the 42 men that were forcibly returned. The men claimed that they had been beaten by the border agency personnel at the airport in London while being forced onto the plane.
The remaining 36 men are still being held at Baghdad airport by the authorities and UNHCR lawyers had spoken by phone to eight of them. “All those interviewed had reported that 42 deportees had been forcibly returned to Baghdad against their will,” said Mr. Mahecic.
Last week UNHCR voiced its concern at reports that the UK, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are arranging deportations of Iraqi citizens back to violence-prone areas. It urged 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 fleeing strife in Afghanistan and Somalia.