Europe urged not to turn away Iraqi refugees

The continued unrest in Iraq has pushed asylum applications up for the first time in four years, according to UN figures published today, with the increase coming as European countries which had previously extended a warm welcome to Iraqis are starting to close their doors.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) announced that the number of people seeking asylum in 2007 rose 5 per cent to 647,200. The main factor was the "large number of Iraqis seeking international protection in Europe", which accounted for 52,000 of the claims.

But yesterday, Antonio Guterres, the head of UNCHR, warned Europe to keep out the welcome mat for genuine Iraqi asylum-seekers or risk Middle Eastern countries following their lead and expelling thousands of people, who would then inevitably head further west, sending an even bigger wave towards Europe.

"I think it is very important for the Europeans to understand that this is not the moment to send Iraqis back," Mr Guterres said in an interview in London ahead of World Refugee Day on Friday.

Of the 4.7 million people estimated to have been displaced by the fighting in Iraq, almost two million are sheltering in neighbouring Syria and Jordan, which are struggling to shoulder the financial burden.

"It's a very negative message for Syria and Jordan to know that European countries are sending back Iraqis when they have a few thousand, when these countries have hundreds of thousands," Mr Guterres said. "And one can imagine what would happen if Syria and Jordan decided to expel these people. They would probably not return to Iraq, and so Europe would be facing a massive inflow."

Outside the Middle East region, it is Sweden that has until now taken the brunt of the Iraqi refugee influx. Sodertalje, a small town outside the capital, became known as "Mosul-on-Stockholm" because it took one in every 20 people seeking asylum in Europe.

However, the Swedish Supreme Court has now ruled that there is no armed conflict in Iraq and this means that Iraqis are now only considered to be refugees if they can prove that they have been individually threatened.

"This has led to an increase in the level of rejection and to a limited number of rejected cases being sent back," Mr Guterres said.

However, Sweden is still one of Europe's good guys. In Greece, which is often the first EU port of call for those Iraqis fleeing overland via Turkey, the rate of recognition for refugees from Iraq is essentially zero per cent. And this causes problems when under EU law, people can be sent back to the country of entry. "That is why we have been asking European countries not to apply the regulations and send people back to Greece," Mr Guterres said, explaining that it was tantamount to sending them back to Iraq.

In its latest report on the Iraqi refugee crisis, Amnesty International said that the treatment of Iraqis seeking protection abroad had taken a sharp turn for the worst. "Coercive mechanisms, such as the withdrawal of assistance to propel people to return, as well as forcible return and the failure to recognise individuals as refugees, have become more widespread," it said. "The number of countries now attempting to deport rejected Iraqi asylum-seekers is at a record high."

Asylum policies across Europe vary widely, particularly given that some of the recent entrants to the EU used to be the countries of origin of asylum-seekers. France will assume the presidency of the Europe Union on 1 July, and has said that it will present a new pact on immigration and asylum.

"We hope that this will be an occasion for countries to co-ordinate their policies not by having a minimum common denominator on asylum but to take the best practices that exist," Mr Guterres said.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape