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Startseite Urgent Actions 2010 10 Stop forced returns to Iraq
UA 227/10
Abgeschlossen am 3. November 2010

Stop forced returns to Iraq

AI-Index: EUR 35/003/2010

Amnesty International has received credible reports indicating that the Dutch authorities are planning to forcibly return an unspecified number of individuals whose asylum claims have been rejected to Baghdad, Iraq, on 3 November 2010. Their lives could be at serious risk in Iraq.

The Dutch authorities have maintained that the security situation in Iraq is “sufficiently safe” to continue enforcing returns of Iraqis whose asylum claims have been dismissed, despite clear guidelines from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to the contrary. On 22 September, the Dutch authorities forcibly returned a number of Iraqis to Baghdad on a charter flight organized jointly with Swedish, Norwegian and UK authorities. As recently as 20 October, during a visit to the Netherlands, Daniel Endres, UNHCR’s representative in Iraq reiterated UNHCR’s objection to the continuing forced returns of Iraqis from European countries. He stated that at this stage he could not vouch for the safety of anybody returned to Iraq, pointing to the continuing high rate of attacks and political violence in Iraq.

Amnesty International believes that it is not safe to forcibly return anyone to Iraq in the current situation of ongoing insecurity and instability. Iraqis from the five provinces considered to be particularly dangerous—Ninewa (Mosul), Kirkuk, Diyala, Salah al-Din and Baghdad— as well as Al Anbar, should be granted refugee status or alternative forms of protection. In those regions of Iraq the ongoing indiscriminate threats to life, physical integrity or freedom arising from violence or events seriously disturbing public order are all valid grounds for international protection. In the case of asylum-seekers from other provinces of Iraq, an individual assessment should be made to assess whether they qualify for refugee status or alternative forms of protection. Any such assessment for protection should also consider the viability and safety of people’s onward route from Baghdad to the destination envisaged as the place of residence in Iraq and protection should be granted when people would face a real risk of persecution or serious harm en route.

Additional Information

The Netherlands are obliged under domestic and international law, including the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Convention against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights, not to return anyone to a country where they would be at risk of torture and other grave human rights abuses, including indiscriminate threats to life, physical integrity or freedom arising from generalized violence.

In April 2010, Amnesty International issued a report (Iraq: Civilians under fire, MDE 14/002/2010) highlighting the risks to people returned involuntarily to Iraq, who are among those particularly vulnerable to be targeted with violence.

At least five European countries—Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands—have forcibly returned hundreds of Iraqis whose asylum claims had been dismissed since 2009. In the month of September 2010 alone, more than 150 individuals were returned from these five countries to Iraq. Many of these removals have been conducted in breach of UNHCR guidelines issued in April 2009 (and repeatedly reiterated, including as recently as September 2010) that identify particularly dangerous regions in Iraq to where no one should be forcibly returned – namely the provinces of Ninewa (Mosul), Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Diyala and Baghdad. UNHCR also advised that no forcible returns should be conducted to other areas of Iraq unless an individual assessment has been carried out which indicates that it would be safe to return the individual in question.

Amnesty International is also currently investigating whether authorities in other European states are also planning to forcibly return Iraqis whose asylum claims have been dismissed as part of the same operation.

Hundreds of civilians are still being killed or maimed every month in Iraq, notwithstanding the overall reduction in the civilian death-toll seen since 2008. Perpetrators of human rights abuses in Iraq include armed groups, militias, security forces and members of tribes. The recent publication of US secret and confidential files on the situation in Iraq by the Wikileaks organization has demonstrated again that civilians are the main victims of the ongoing violence in the country.

In practice, the number of Iraqi refugees seeking asylum in European states is relatively small compared to the numbers of those currently residing in states neighbouring Iraq. Syria hosts by far the greatest number of refugees from Iraq, followed by Jordan and other Middle Eastern states. Amnesty International is concerned that the increasing pattern of forcible returns from the Netherlands and other European states sets a very poor example to these Middle Eastern states, whose resources have been stretched by the influx of people fleeing from Iraq, and may contribute to an overall weakening of the international system of refugee protection.

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