Iraq: ‘Do not abandon us’ urge Iraqi refugees who served alongside British troops

Agencies Call on British Government to Take Urgent Action on Iraqi Refugees

(London, April 16, 2007) – Three former Iraqi interpreters for the UK Army, who were forced to flee to Syria after receiving death threats, have appealed to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair not to abandon them and thousands of other Iraqi refugees facing an uncertain future in neighbouring countries.

Ahead of tomorrow’s crucial United Nations conference on the growing Iraqi refugee crisis, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the British Refugee Council have also written to Blair, calling on his government to take urgent action.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees now estimates there are around 2 million Iraqi refugees sheltering in neighbouring countries, mostly in Syria and Jordan, with 40,000-50,000 more each month fleeing their homes.

Moreover, there is a growing number of Iraqi asylum seekers in Britain who have not been granted leave to stay, but as a result of the continued violence in Iraq are unable to return home. They are left homeless, hungry and without any means of providing for themselves.

In their letter, the three interpreters – Issa Jafer Al-Saed, Loay Mohammed Al-Tahar and Akram Moaiy’d Kalaf – said:

“Like thousands of other Iraqi refugees, we are in an increasingly desperate situation. We have no life here but face death if we return to Iraq.

“We urge the UK government: do not abandon us. We ask you not to betray our belief in your promises, but to do what is in your government’s power to help us and other refugees who have fled Iraq in fear for their lives”

In an open letter released today, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the British Refugee Council call on Blair to take three steps to alleviate the increasingly severe humanitarian crisis:

  • To greatly extend the package of support to countries in the region who are sheltering the vast majority of refugees from Iraq
  • To offer some of these refugees the chance to resettle to the UK, following the example of the United States
  • To follow Sweden’s example, and suspend forcible removals of Iraqi asylum seekers in the UK, and to offer all Iraqi asylum seekers a status that would allow them to be supported or to work

Find out more about our work on Refugee and Asylum issues

Notes to editors

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees International Conference on Addressing the Humanitarian Needs of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons inside Iraq and in Neighbouring Countries takes place April 17-18, 2007, Palais des Nations, Geneva. More information is available at: http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/media?page=home&id=461b63de4 /p>

Both letters follow.

Letter from Issa Jafer Al-Saed, Loay Mohammed Al-Tahar and Akram Moaiy’d Kalaf:

Damascus 12 April 2007

Prime Minister,

We are interpreters who worked for the British forces in Basra, Iraq. Recently we were forced to flee to Damascus in Syria after receiving death threats and after many of our former Iraqi colleagues were kidnapped, tortured and killed.

Now, like thousands of other Iraqi refugees we are in an increasingly desperate situation. We have no life here but face death if we return to Iraq.

In Iraq we were targeted precisely because we served the British authorities. We went out on military patrols with the British soldiers and conducted interrogations of terrorist suspects. We did this dangerous work because we were inspired by your confidence in the early months of the war in Iraq and we decided to help the British and the Americans build a better Iraq. But now it is too dangerous for us anywhere in Iraq, even in other parts of the country.

Since our arrival in Damascus we have been trying to get help from the British consular authorities here. But the guards do not allow any Iraqis like us access to the British Embassy. We have been unable to get interviews to present our cases and our documents and to request assistance or asylum.

The Syrian authorities are allowing us to stay in Syria at present. But we are unable to work. We are running out of money. Several of our colleagues have been forced to return to Iraq because it is hard to survive here. We regularly hear of friends killed back in Iraq. We will soon have to return unless we get help.

We urge the UK government: do not abandon us. We ask you not to betray our belief in your promises, but to do what is in your government’s power to help us and other refugees who have fled Iraq in fear for their lives and now find themselves in desperate circumstances.

Yours sincerely,

Issa Jafer Al-Saed, Loay Mohammed Al-Tahar, Akram Moaiy’d Kalaf

Letter from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Refugee Council:

The Rt Hon Tony Blair MP
Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA

Dear Prime Minister,

On 17th and 18th April 2007, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is convening an international conference to highlight the plight of the growing numbers of Iraqi refugees and Internally Displaced People in the Middle East and to call on UN member states to do more to help. We believe that because of the UK’s involvement in the Iraq conflict, the UK should be playing a leading role in addressing this humanitarian crisis.

The movement of refugees into neighbouring countries, and the equally serious problem of internal displacement within Iraq, has been growing steadily as sectarian and political violence in Iraq has increased. UNHCR estimates that 40,000-50,000 people a month are now fleeing their homes in Iraq, adding to the estimated two million Iraqi refugees in the region, most of them in Syria and Jordan whose governments are struggling to meet their needs. The situation is so bad that countries in the region are threatening to close their borders and to turn away people fleeing violence and persecution. As well as putting individual lives at risk, this would be a serious threat to the international refugee protection system, as well as the fundamental human right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution.

We urge you to address the humanitarian dimensions of the displacement crisis in and around Iraq and ask you that you take a number of actions.
Firstly, whilst the extra £6m in emergency relief announced by the Department for International Development on March 22nd is welcome, far more is needed. We ask you to put in place a much more substantial package of support to the region, both directly and through UNHCR, which alone has appealed for 60 million dollars of assistance in 2007.

Secondly, the UK has done nothing to allow Iraqi refugees displaced by conflict the chance to resettle in the UK – including people who have shown great loyalty and service to the UK in Iraq. We are aware of a significant number of former employees of the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office, and the Department for International Development who have fled from Iraq in fear for their lives and who are now stranded in Syria or Jordan.

We attach a letter written to you from three such former employees of your government, Loay Mohammed al-Tahar, Akram Moaiy’d Kalaf and Issa Jafer al-Saed. As these men explain in their letter, they are being turned away from the gates of the British Embassy in Damascus, and have concluded that the British government has washed its hands of any responsibility for their safety and welfare.

To address these issues, we ask that you take a lead in Europe by immediately announcing a programme to resettle in the UK some of the Iraqi refugees currently living in the most difficult conditions in countries neighbouring Iraq. The United States has announced that it will resettle 7,000 refugees and we believe your government should put together its own resettlement programme.

Thirdly, at a time when the international community is calling on Iraq’s neighbours to keep their borders open to asylum seekers, we believe it sends a contradictory signal for your government to be deporting Iraqis to their homeland. The forcible removal of Iraqis, even to those parts of Iraq which the UK considers to be safe, is a serious misallocation of resources and priorities in view of the current Iraqi refugee crisis.

Sweden, for example, has suspended forcible returns to Iraq for the time being and we ask you to consider a similar gesture until the security situation improves markedly. It also concerns us that Iraqis who are refused asylum in the UK are left in legal limbo and many live in destitution. We believe that all Iraqis living here should be given some form of status in the UK, allowing them to work or to receive a decent level of state support.

The refugee crisis will not be solved by the UK alone, but your government is well placed to take a lead in Europe and the world. We urge you to use this week’s Geneva conference to signal a change of heart in your approach to Iraqi refugees, by announcing a more generous, more principled, more coherent, and more far-sighted set of UK policies.

Yours sincerely

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK
Anna Reisenberger, Acting Chief Executive of the Refugee Council
Tom Porteous, London Director of Human Rights Watch

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