Iraq: Governments providing false picture to hide grim reality for Iraqi refugees

The international community is evading its responsibility towards refugees from Iraq by promoting a false picture of the security situation when the country is neither safe nor suitable for return, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

Amnesty says that the government of Iraq and countries involved in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, particularly the UK and USA, highlight “improved” security and “voluntary” returns to Iraq to demonstrate that their military involvement has been a success, out of political expedience.

The report, Rhetoric and reality: the Iraqi refugee crisis, which is based on recent research and interviews with Iraqi refugees in the region, says that that the international community is failing to provide the necessary assistance to Iraqi refugees, many of whom are desperate and hurtling towards destitution. Child labour is an increasing problem as families send their Children's rights to work in the streets or factories to earn desperately needed cash, instead of going to school.

Despite the dire situation, the UK authorities have recently informed refused Iraqi asylum seekers in this country that return is reasonable, because individual Iraqis are not at serious risk of indiscriminate violence, and they are expected to return. Those on ‘Section 4’ support have been told that this will be cut off because it is now reasonable to go back to Iraq.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The world’s governments have not only failed in their moral, political and legal duty to share responsibility for Iraqi refugees; they have tried to cover up this failure with empty rhetoric.

“This is one of the worst refugee crises in the world. The human rights situation in Iraq is dire: people are being killed every month and kidnappings, torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detentions pervade the daily lives of Iraqis.

“Iraqis are still trying to flee, something that is now very difficult with the recent imposition of visa restrictions in Jordan and Syria.

“Yet foreign governments including the UK are claiming that the country is safe and are attempting to return terrified people.”

According to latest estimates by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of Iraqis who have fled their homes has now reached 4.7 million, its highest since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and the subsequent internal armed conflict.

While Syria and Jordan have shouldered most of the refugee influx, they have now resorted to drastic measures such as restricting entry and deporting people at risk of persecution partly due to the lack of support from the international community.

Many European countries are now attempting to deport Iraqis, sometimes to some of the most dangerous parts of Iraq such as the South and Central regions. Sweden, which is host to the largest number of Iraqi refugees in Europe and was once a positive example to its neighbours, has now changed its approach and is denying the vast majority of Iraqis protection and forcibly returning some to very dangerous areas.

Having exhausted savings, many refugees are now living in complete destitution. For some, the difficulties they face in their host country are prompting them to make the difficult and dangerous decision to return to Iraq - either temporarily to collect a pension or food ration or more permanently - because of their desperate situation, not because they feel they are no longer at risk of human rights abuses in Iraq. Amnesty’s report insists that they are making this decision as they feel they have no other option, and out of desperation.

A 62-year-old retired Shi’a army officer, Majid, a widower with seven adult Children's rights all living in Baghdad, told Amnesty International in February that after attempting to find protection in Syria, with only the 50 lira (US$1) in his pocket, he had to return to Iraq. Even though he was extremely scared, he had lost hope, saying “If I die, I die.” Majid fled Iraq in February 2008 after two of his nephews, Mansour and Sami, aged 17 and 19, were beheaded by members of an armed group north of Baghdad. He exhausted his savings in Syria and was soon left with nothing. Weeping, he explained to Amnesty International that he had no alternative but to return to Iraq.

Kate Allen added:

“The international community must make a true commitment to assist Iraq’s displaced people by increasing financial assistance, ending forcible returns and coerced ‘voluntary’ returns and offering more resettlement places.”

Amnesty International is greatly concerned that the failure to respond to this crisis will worsen an already dire situation. Amongst other things, it is calling on the international community to:
- urgently and substantially raise sustainable financial assistance;
- end practices such as forcible returns that put lives at further risk;
- cease practices that result in coerced “voluntary” returns;
- allow individuals to seek paid employment; and
- extensively increase resettlement places for the most vulnerable refugees to start a new life in a third country.
Amnesty is also calling on the governments of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt and others in the region to allow unrestricted access to people fleeing Iraq, cease all deportations to Iraq, and grant refugees access to the labour market.

  • read the report

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