California, USA – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) this week revised its guidelines about Iraqi refugees, scaling down the categories of Iraqis that it says should be granted asylum in all cases. Central Iraq remains unstable, and refugees from those provinces should be granted asylum, the UNHCR said. Those provinces include Baghdad, Diyala and Ninevah.
Andrew Harper, who leads the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees operation in Iraq, says Chaldeans and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq should receive asylum from Western countries.
Harper emphasized that Iraq is in a tenuous position as the United States reduces its presence in the country. He said Iraqis don't want a permanent U.S. presence, but acknowledge that the "surge" of American forces in 2008 actually yielded considerable security gains. Those gains are at risk if the Obama administration removes security forces from the country. Chaldean leaders feel the vacuum would create a civil war with Iraqi Christians targeted by all sides.
Reports show that the 310,000 Iraqi refugees have registered for resettlement under the United Nations. Chaldean Christians make up between 2 and 3 percent of Iraq's population, but represent 10 to 15 percent of the Iraqi refugees who have registered for resettlement. "Minorities are overrepresented in our registration because they do not see the potential to return to Iraq," Harper said.
Harper said some refugees are beginning to return to Iraq. About 1.5 million Iraqi refugees displaced by the war are believed to be living in Syria and Jordan. Another 1.6 million likely are displaced from their homes inside Iraq.
Security has improved enough in Iraq's southern provinces and the western province of Al Anbar for countries to consider refugee applications from those areas on an individual basis rather than with a blanket recommendation from the United Nations to accept the asylum seekers. Previously, only Iraq's northern provinces were considered safe enough for some refugees to have the requests for asylum denied.
That said, the UNHCR contends minorities, single women, political activists and Iraqis who have worked for Western countries should be granted asylum because they face discrimination or persecution in Iraq.