Asylumseekers must not be forcibly returned to central Iraq – UN

11 December 2009The United Nations refugee agency today called on all States to continue to refrain from forcibly returning Iraqi asylum-seekers to Baghdad, Kirkuk and other violence-prone areas in the centre of the country, warning that the situation was still too precarious due to continuing violence and serious human rights violations. “Asylum-seekers from these governorates should be considered to be in need of international protection,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing in Geneva, citing Baghdad, Ninewa, Salah al Din, Diyala and Tameem (Kirkuk).“UNHCR is shocked and saddened by the recent bombings and continued violence in Iraq which have left hundreds dead and wounded this week.”The agency is leaving in place the guidelines it last revised in April “until there is a substantial improvement in the security and human rights situation in the country,” he added. With regard to the three northern governorates, the southern governorates and Al Anbar, UNHCR recommended that the protection needs of asylum-seekers be assessed on an individual basis.“While the number of security incidents has [been] reduced, many groups continue to face significant threats, with UNHCR offices reporting that the numbers of Iraqi refugees returning are being offset by new arrivals,” Mr. Mahecic said.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.

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