UK: Failure to take share of Iraqi refugees is shameful

The UK is failing to take its share of responsibility for the refugee crisis facing Iraq said Amnesty International today, ahead of the government’s quarterly asylum statistics. While the USA has agreed to take refugees from Iraq's overburdened neighbouring countries and the EU is discussing the situation of Iraqi refugees and its response to the current crisis, the UK is returning people to northern Iraq despite the ongoing insecurity. Up to 38 Iraqis were forcibly returned from the UK to northern Iraq on Monday 12 February.

In a letter to UK Home Secretary John Reid, Amnesty International is calling on the UK to stop forced returns to Iraq immediately, and to put in place a resettlement scheme like that announced by the USA. The letter also highlights the plight of Iraqis at the end of the UK asylum process who cannot be returned to areas like Baghdad, who are forced into destitution when they are denied support from the UK authorities.

The USA last week announced that it would take in 7,000 refugees from Iraq under a UN-sponsored ‘resettlement scheme’. Other countries have also played their part: Sweden granted 2,330 Iraqis refugee status in 2005 alone and other European countries such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Norway are not returning Iraqi asylum seekers. The bulk of refugees are taken by neighbouring countries, however: Syria has received a million Iraqi refugees and Jordan over 800,000.

By contrast, the latest available statistics show fewer than 600 asylum applications to the UK from Iraqis in 2006, with the vast majority of claims refused.

Amnesty International UK Refugee Programme Director Jan Shaw said:

“While other countries are helping Iraqi people fleeing terror and violence, the UK is returning them to an uncertain fate – a truly shameful situation.

“The bloodshed in Iraq is causing people to flee for their lives and the international community has a responsibility to offer them a safe haven.

“The UK should consider a resettlement scheme for Iraqi refugees as part of a responsibility-sharing approach - not turn its back on desperate and terrified people.”

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