World Refugee Survey 2009: Iraq
Iraq hosted 41,600 registered refugees, primarily in Baghdad and the Kurdish-administered regions, as well as nearly 2,600 asylum seekers. They included Palestinians and various ethnic and ideological minorities fleeing persecution in Iran, Syria, and Turkey.
Palestinians received privileged status in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s rule, sparking resentment particularly among Iraq’s armed Shiite groups. Only about 14,500 Palestinians remained in Iraq at the end of 2008 out of some 35,000 that arrived beginning in 1948 through the 1991 Gulf War, as continued threat of targeted attacks and sectarian violence caused thousands to flee. Some 2,700 Palestinians remained stranded in poor conditions in desert camps on the Iraqi borders of both Syria and Jordan, following the refusal of the Jordanian and Syrian government to permit entry.
Syrians in Iraq included Kurds and Baathists fleeing the regime that numbered over 1,200. Three groups of Iranians lived in Iraq: Kurds, Ahwazi Arabs, and members of the Mujahideen al-Khalq – the primary opposition party of the Iranian government. Turkish Kurds numbered 16,120.
2008 Events Summary
Although the security situation generally improved in 2008, refugees continued to be targets of violence greatly limting their access to humanitarian assistance and other services. In particular, assailants targeted Palestinians in Baghdad and Ahwazi Arabs from Iran in southern Iraq. Most attacks on Palestinians during 2008 were individual shootings or abductions, as opposed to the mortar attacks on Palestinian areas common in late 2006 and early 2007.
Multinational forces and Iraqi Security Forces detained refugees during the year, usually on allegations of terrorism but never filing official charges. UNHCR was unable to obtain reliable information on detainees or detention conditions, but reports from UNHCR implementing partners, the Palestinian embassy, and refugee comunities suggested as many as 70 Palestinians and 7 Syrian refugees remain in detention. UNHCR and the UN Mission in Iraq received reports of abuse and possible torture of detainees, which the Iraqi Government denied.
In April, UNHCR and the Catholic Church of Chile resettled Palestinians from 29 families (117 refugees) to Chile. They had been stranded on the Iraq-Syria border for almost two years.
In April, UNHCR and the Government began reregistering Palestinian refugees, and in June began issuing identity cards to those in Baghdad. Officials estimated in August that another 3,000 eligible Palestinians lived in Nineva and Basra.
Approximately 250 Palestinians crossed into Syria in May after an appeal from the Palestinian Authority. A majority of the refugees had been stranded at the Iraqi-Jordanian border for about two months, but many Palestinians within Iraq and Palestinians stranded at the Iraqi-Syrian border joined the group after learning about Syria’s acceptance. Sweden and Iceland agreed to accept roughly 200 Palestinian women and children with urgent medical needs stranded on the Iraq-Syria border for resettlement in August.
A group of 29 Palestinian women and children departed for Iceland in August, while another 39 Palestinians arrived in Sweden in October.
The Government declared in August that members of the People’s Mojahedeen Organization of Iran, an Iranian opposition group based at Ashraf camp, were considered part of a terrorist organization and should be sent back to Iran.
Almost 100 Sudanese refugees, mostly from Darfur, living in a makeshift camp in the Iraqi desert left for Romania in December, with 42 more expected to join them in January 2009.
Law and Policy
Although Iraq is not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, the 1971 Refugee Act prohibits refoulement. The northern governorates have no status determination procedure, so UNHCR registers asylum seekers.
A still-valid Coalition Provisional Authority order assigns the Ministry of Displacement and Migration responsibility for recognized refugees. The Permanent Committee for Refugee Affairs, established under the 1971 Refugee Act and reactivated in 2005 lacks the capacity to determine refugee status, which leaves UNHCR in charge of the procedure. The Committee disputes the status of certain refugee groups, such as the Syrian Arabs.
U.S. troops protect the Iranian Mujahideen al-Khalq at Camp Ashraf outside Baghdad, since the U.S. Defense Secretary declared them protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Detention/Access to Courts
UNHCR generally does not have access to detainees or to information about their conditions but the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has access to MNF-I detainees.
Refugees recognized by the former regime held Iraqi identity cards, but with its fall the new Government ordered Palestinian, Syrian, and Ahwazi refugees to obtain residence permits from the Residence Directorate, despite being exempted from that requirement by the 1971 Refugees Act. Administrative roadblocks prevented most from renewing their cards or obtaining residence permits, but the Government began issuing identity cards to Palestinians in mid-2008, and UNHCR provides certificates to Syrians, Ahwazis and Kurds from Iran, and Sudanese refugees. Turkish refugees in Makhmour camp received identity cards in 2007. UNHCR provides asylum seekers, most of whom reside in Kurdish areas, with certificates in Arabic, English, and Kurdish.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Although there are no legal restrictions on refugees’ freedom of movement or choice of residence, the general lawlessness, physical attacks, and arbitrary detention restrict refugees’ movement in southern and central Iraq.
In the Kurdish governorates, Iranian refugees possess identity cards that let them travel in the area, but need permission from the regional government to go to other parts of Iraq. Turkish refugees in Makhmour refugee camp can move freely within the district, but they risk detention if they do not carry identification and authorization from camp authorities to leave the district for more than a day.
The Government does not issue international travel documents to refugees.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
The 1971 Refugee Act provides for refugees’ right to work, and in the Kurdish areas, they can work legally under permission from the President’s office, but there is no authorization for asylum seekers. In the Kurdish governorates, refugees work in farming, trade, and construction. Refugees in Dahuk and Erbil can get work permits too, but in Sulaymaniyah, Iranian asylum seekers do not need to obtain work permits to work as laborers, shopkeepers, mechanics, and construction workers. Although technically under the 1971 Refugee Act, refugees enjoy the same labor rights as citizens, current conditions make this impossible. Refugees in central and southern Iraq have difficulty finding jobs because of their lack of documentation.
The 1971 Refugee Act does not specifically provide for refugee property ownership, but earlier legal provisions benefit Syrian refugees. Refugees are unable to register businesses, own land, or open bank accounts, as all of these activities require Iraqi national identification documents.
Public Relief and Education
The Government cooperates with UNHCR as it aids refugees. UNHCR works through non-governmental organizations partners, while the Iraqi Red Crescent and the Iraq Aid Association (IAA) also operate.
Iranian camp residents receive food from the ICRC and an Iranian-American relief organization, which also donates medical supplies and school supplies. UNHCR helps Iranian Kurdish refugees who moved to the Kawa camp in Erbil with vocational training, and the agency provides internal roads, water, and electricity to the residents. Despite limited access to Al Waleed camp, through the Italian Consortium for Solidarity (ICS), UNHCR gives residents rations, non-food items, electricity, and fuel. ICRC provides water, sanitation services, and medical supplies. ICS takes seriously ill patients to a hospital every two weeks.
The Refugee Act entitles refugees to the same health and education services as nationals and, in the Kurdish regions, UNHCR and the regional governments provide these services. Refugees without identity documents, however, have difficulty attending school and getting other services.
Back to World Refugee Survey: 2009 >>