UK must do more to ease Iraqi refugee crisis says Amnesty report

The Iraqi refugee crisis is reaching breaking point, said a new Amnesty International report today following a research mission to Syria and Jordan which host the bulk of Iraq’s refugees. Help from the international community has been “seriously inadequate,” concludes the report, focusing particularly on countries like the UK which participated in the invasion of Iraq and hence “carry particular responsibilities to Iraqis”.

The report, Millions in flight: the Iraqi refugee crisis, commends the Syrian and Jordanian governments for largely keeping their borders open to date but accuses other states of doing too little to help them meet the needs of almost two million Iraqi refugees whom they now host. As a result, the two countries are taking steps to tighten border controls and so cut off the main escape routes for people fleeing from sectarian and other violence in Iraq.

The new report highlights the “negative measures” employed by some countries, identifying the UK as forcibly returning more Iraqi refugees than any other country in Europe. The organisation opposes forcible returns to any part of Iraq, including the North, noting the persistence of violence and instability and the potential for civil war to spread to the Northern Governorates. It also criticises the UK policy of cutting-off support to refused asylum seekers who cannot return home, a policy that has left some Iraqi asylum seekers destitute.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The international community has largely ignored the plight of millions of Iraqis displaced inside and outside Iraq.

“With Syria and Jordan now preparing to tighten border controls, desperate people fleeing violence and death threats may have no escape route available.

“It’s staggering that the UK is sending people back to Iraq when it should be helping Syria and Jordan to cope with this refugee crisis. As one of the countries involved in the invasion of Iraq, it has a moral obligation to help those displaced by the bloodshed that has followed.”

Amnesty is also co-hosting an event at the Labour Party conference, Iraqi refugees: our responsibility? with Human Rights Watch and the Refugee Council. The event is at 12.45 on Monday 24 September at the Wessex Hotel, Bournemouth. An Iraqi man who served with the coalition forces in Iraq and is now seeking asylum in the UK following threats against him will be speaking at the event.

At least four million Iraqis are now displaced and their numbers are continuing to rise at an estimated rate of 2,000 people per day, making this the world's fastest growing displacement crisis. Syria now hosts 1.4 million Iraqi refugees and Jordan 500-750,000 – making up 10% of Jordan’s population - while 2.2 million people are displaced but still remain within Iraq.

Kate Allen said:

"The international community – including the UK - must do more to assist Jordan and Syria by providing increased financial, technical and in-kind bilateral assistance and by accepting greater numbers of especially vulnerable refugees for resettlement."

“The modest steps taken by the international community simply do not measure up to the magnitude of the crisis.”

Although many pledges for assistance have been made, some have not yet been honoured and the level of support delivered has been seriously insufficient given the actual needs on the ground.

Amnesty International is also calling for on-going assistance to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as well as national and international humanitarian organisations to enable them to continue to provide and expand their current work to protect and assist Iraqis in need.

The report criticises the slow pace of resettlement of those considered most vulnerable among the Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria, including victims of torture and other grave abuses. It notes that between 2003, when the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussain, and 2006, the number of Iraqi refugees who were resettled in third countries fell by more than a half, despite rising political violence. According to UNHCR, 1,425 Iraqi refugees were resettled in third countries in 2003 but only 404 in 2006.

View latest press releases