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Friday, September 25, 2009

Uncertainty and Injustice for Minority Refugees From Iraq



Refugees from Iraq's minorities face insecurity and risk losing their religious and cultural identity as they try to seek refuge in neighbouring countries and Western Europe, a report by Minority Rights Group International says.

In a landmark new report on the situation of Iraqi uprooted minorities, MRG says that many of the people who flee Iraq undertake very dangerous journeys to get to Europe often only to be met with restrictive asylum policies, discrimination and in some cases forcible return.

A disproportionate number of those fleeing Iraq -- somewhere between 15-64 per cent, depending on the country of refuge -- are minorities, including Christians, Circassians, Sabian Mandaeans, Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis.

'Minorities are leaving Iraq because they are specifically targeted for attack due to their religion and culture, but getting out of the country is no guarantee of their safety and security,' says Carl Soderbergh, MRG's Director of Policy and Communications.

'Many European countries are now rejecting asylum applications and returning people to Iraq despite the fact that attacks on minorities have actually increased in some areas,' he adds.

Sweden, for instance, has begun returning to Iraq a number of rejected asylum seekers including - Christians on the grounds that some parts of Iraq are safe to go back to. The UK and other European countries have also begun enforced returns of rejected asylum-seekers.

The integration policies of certain asylum countries also adversely affect Iraqi minorities. Dispersal policies, for instance, which divide refugees of the same nationality have a serious impact on minorities, who need to remain together as a community to protect their cultural identity and religious practices.

'Some communities like Mandaeans, who number a few thousand globally, stand to lose many of their religious and cultural practices, as they are spread across and within countries. They are at risk of cultural eradication,' says Soderbergh.

Of Iraq's neighbours, Syria and Jordan are the most common destinations for refugees, and this is also the case for minorities. UNHCR estimates that up to 2 million Iraqis have fled the country, with approximately 1.1 million in Syria and 450,000 in Jordan.

Although Jordan and Syria have welcomed a large number of Iraqi refugees, many live in a state of limbo as they are unable to secure residency or work permits. Both countries have since 2007 begun to tighten their visa policies, making it increasingly harder for Iraqis to live there legally.

The report includes a series of testimonies from Iraqi minority refugees, who describe the violence and trauma suffered before they fled the country and explain their fear and reluctance to return.

'We will never go back, it is impossible. We will suffer death if we go back … If you stay in Iraq, you will convert to Islam or be killed. For that reason, the future is dead for us there,' says an Iraqi Mandaean seeking asylum in Södertälje, Sweden.