UNHCR dismayed at forced repatriation of Iraqis; reports increase in flight of Iraqi Christians

© UNHCR/H. Caux

UNHCR is concerned by the continuing forced repatriation of Iraqis contrary to the Agency’s advice. UNHCR strongly urges European states to refrain from deporting Iraqis who originate from the most perilous parts of the country.

Such removals come at a time when UNHCR’s five offices in Iraq are noting a significant increase in Christians fleeing Baghdad and Mosul to the Kurdistan Regional Government Region and the Ninewa plains in the north. Christian communities in the two cities have started a slow but steady exodus since a deadly attack on a Baghdad church in October 2010 which saw 68 persons killed.

Around 1,000 families have arrived in the Kurdistan region and Ninewa since the beginning of November 2010. UNHCR has heard many accounts of people fleeing their homes after receiving direct threats. Our offices have distributed emergency assistance and are in contact with the local authorities to ensure that the recently displaced persons are supported and assisted.

In addition, UNHCR offices in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are reporting the arrival of a growing number of Iraqi Christians who have contacted UNHCR for registration and help. Churches and non-governmental organisations have warned that more people are expected to flee in the coming weeks.

Many of the new arrivals explain that they left in fear as a result of the church attack in October. One man, now registered with UNHCR in Jordan, narrowly escaped the attack, having left the church minutes before the bombing took place. He had been deported from Sweden just days before.

UNHCR recognises the efforts the Iraqi Government is making to try to protect all its citizens, including vulnerable minority groups such as the Christians. The government has reiterated its commitment to increase the protection of places of worship. While overall civilian casualties were lower in 2010 than in 2009, it appears that minority groups are increasingly susceptible to threats and attacks.

UNHCR is reiterating its position that asylum seekers who originate from Iraq's governorates of Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa and Salah-al-Din, as well as from Kirkuk province, should not be returned and should benefit from international protection, whether in the form of refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention or a complementary form of protection.

Additionally, the merits of the claims of all other Iraqi applicants need to be considered carefully, including those who are religious minorities. This position reflects the volatile security situation and the still high level of violence, security incidents, and human rights violations taking place in parts of Iraq. UNHCR 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.