British regular forces have long left Iraq, but the problems created for Iraqi refugees by the post-invasion conflicts continue to pose challenges for UK policy-makers. Avery Hancock looks behind the headlines at the continuing plight of many thousands of refugees from the conflict, and at the UK’s stance on accepting its share of the consequential burdens for EU member states.
Between Nick Clegg’s recent gaffe at the Dispatch box in which he said the Iraq war was illegal, the further vilification of Tony Blair at the Chilcot inquiry, and David Miliband’s lamentations that the Labour party has been ‘punished enough about Iraq’, one could be forgiven for thinking that it is UK politicians who are suffering the fallout of the war more than anyone else.
This June, 42 Iraqi men were placed on a removal flight to Baghdad, several of whom claim to have been beaten into submission by UKBA agents. These men join the over 5,000 Iraqis have been forcibly removed from the country since 2005 and sent back to Iraq. According to Amnesty International some of these removals are in defiance of UNHCR guidance against forced removals to Baghdad and other dangerous areas of the country and exposes returned asylum-seekers to abuse and violence.
In recent years, the number of Iraqis who have become refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs), has risen to 4.7 million out of a population of 30 million. The UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) believes that the majority of the 2 million externally displaced refugees are living in neighbouring Syria and Jordan, with an additional 2.7 million displaced within the country. The scale of the refugee crisis took the international community by surprise as it was not the initial invasion of 2003 that sparked a mass exodus but rather the sectarian violence that embroiled the country following the 2006 bombing of the Al-Askari mosque in Samara.
According to a new report by two humanitarian organisations working in the region, the situation for Iraqi refugees remains precarious and only around 80,000 refugees and IDPs have returned home. Although violence has declined in Baghdad and the north (Kurdistan), UNHCR does not encourage refugees to return to the country due to high levels of sectarian violence, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, suicide bombs, and extra-judicial killings. Religious, social and other minorities have been particularly targeted. They are unable to return home and lack the legal status to remain in Jordan and Syria, where they are treated as ‘guests’ without the right to work and are open to exploitation and further trauma. Recognizing the strain on Jordan and Syria’s capacity to integrate almost 3 million refugees, UNHCR continues to encourage third countries to permanently resettle Iraqis and provide what they call ‘durable solutions’ to the displacement crisis.
The UK was one of only 7 EU countries that had a resettlement programme operating when the 2006/2007 refugee crisis hit. The Gateway Protection Programme, a scheme designed to resettle Iraqis that were employed by the British Army (and therefore especially vulnerable to attack), settled 69 Iraqis in 2007, 355 in 2008, and 432 in 2009. But it was Sweden, Finland and France who initially selected the most Iraqis for resettlement and who pushed for a more coherent European policy, which emerged in European commission Council conclusions reached in November 2008.
The conclusions invited Member States to take in particularly vulnerable Iraqi refugees ‘on a voluntary basis’ and ‘in light of the reception capacities of Member States and the overall effort they have already made as regards reception of refugees’- and set a target of 10,000 refugees. The report notes that by 2009 five new countries including Germany, Belgium, and Italy had begun accepting refugees under ad hoc schemes, and that overall numbers increased- from 1,144 in 2007 to 5122 in 2009. As the chart below shows, however, Sweden, France, Germany and the UK continue to bear most of the burden.
Source: IRC and ICMC, 2010
My second chart below shows that while the EU’s contribution has been rising, it is still relatively small in global terms, with the US taking on nearly three-quarters of UNHCR-selected refugees compared to the EU’s share which is one fifth of that.
Source: IRC and ICMC, 2010
Keeping aside any moral arguments that the UK should bear more responsibility for the post-invasion violence and displacement in Iraq than other countries, there is a case for a more equal distribution of refugees across Europe. As we’ve seen in mass migrations from Afghanistan and other conflict-afflicted countries, the disparity in legal protection offered by European states creates a chaos of rules and regulations that leaves refugees vulnerable to third-party traffickers and places unfair strains on receiving countries.
A new Joint EU Resettlement programme aims to coordinate Member States resettlement operations, thereby reducing the waiting period for refugees in limbo and easing the burden on developing countries that bear the brunt of refugee crises. For each refugee settled the European Commission will continue to make available 4,000 Euros available for each resettled person. The UK and most other European countries have not yet made use of this fund which could be used to offset initial housing and subsistence costs.
If the UK and other countries engage with and strengthen the resettlement programme – which involves settling refugees already identified by UNHCR in Iraq and the region, it is possible that the numbers of Iraqis who claim asylum on arrival in Europe could decrease. Between 2007 and 2009 over 38,000 Iraqis accounted for 17% of all asylum applications in the EU, making it the largest country of origin for refugees. In the UK principal asylum applications (excluding dependants) have averaged around 2,000 per year since 2003, although only about 10% have been granted full refugee status or humanitarian leave to remain.
Now that the Gateway Protection Programme is closed the Home Office and UKBA will have to examine the options for dealing with the issue. One option is to continue accepting a trickle of refugees each year and deporting large numbers in the hope that the public does not pick it up as the next ‘Gurkha’ cause. Another, more humane option, would be to work with European partners to manage the number of refugees the UK can support.
Don`t bother “moderating” my ideas into your waste-bin chaps.
I`m finished with your Soros-funded anti-democratic LSE lie machine.Open Society?
Don`t make me larf!
You have no conception of the spirit of democracy.
You are professional liars.
It`s a waste of time engaging with you treacherous CIA/Wall Street toe rags!
I think “asylum” is one of the greatest injustices imaginable to people who were born here and struggle on the margins of our far from welfare oriented society.
The idea that we are a tolerant hospitable society is constantly used by the wealthy folk who run our immigration system…but in over sixty years I have never been offered a choice about who enters Britain and starts breeding and making demands on all our public services and resources.
In fact the powerful know very well that given a chance sensible people woulld have said no long ago…..just as they would with the EU and bailing out thieves in the USA….and they would have said no to all these global capitalist directed wars as well.
A recent EU research confirms that the most important concern issue for U.K is immigration and asylum. However, within this context, the Labour government’s notorious handling of asylum policies and practice since 1997 was the main factor behind the backlog and legacy of unresolved cases. This is coupled with the sensational tabloid headlines which fuelled the negative perception in Britain. Too true that some parts of Iraq is safe, and humane repatriation can be met. But, the culture of UKBA to send failed applicants to Baghdad, without realising that Iraq is still struggling to form its new government, will lead to life and death situation. Many of those who were removed recently are still detained in Baghdad airport. While here the closure of RMJ led to an Iraqi asylum seeker to take his own life recently. Refugee and asylum is becoming a murky issue in Britain, this is due to the complexity and deficiency of the system.
As a researcher I have worked closely with Mandaean ( a minority persecuted religion) Iraqi refugees in Damascus who are desperate to resettle, as to be returned would mean certain death. Ireland has not taken any refugees under the resettlement programme, have you any suggestions as to how I could campaign for the Irish government to consider sharing the burden ?
I personally know some Iraqis who have been successful in their quest for asylum in Ireland…I am also a researcher based in Rep of Ireland. The Irish economy is in extreme difficulty now so the possibility of acomodating others and trying to counter serious internal econmic problems is a major concern.
Hi Mary thanks for your reply …. I wonder were the that Iraqis you know accepted under the EU directive for Resettlement of Iraqi refugees ? … yes some Iraqis have been sucessful on a case by case basis in the same way as any asylum seeker is entitled to apply but as far as I am aware, as of date, Ireland has not taken any Iraqis under the EU, Resttlement Program , as for funding the EC decision 573/2007/EC does make extra provision for Iraqi refugees who cannot return to Iraq to be supported financially.. the Mandeans are highly educated and would make a wonderful contribution to the new Irish Smart Economy