09/25/2009, 00.00
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Iraqi refugees face a hard life in asylum countries

A report by the Minority Rights Group International shows that asylum countries are sending refugees back. The absence of a proper integration policy is leading to refugee dispersion, condemning refugees to cultural extinction.
London (AsiaNews/MRG) – Refugees from Iraq's minorities face insecurity and risk losing their religious and cultural identity as they seek refuge in neighbouring countries and Western Europe, a minority rights group said on Thursday.

In report based on interviews conducted with refugees in 2008, the Minority Rights Group International (MRGI) notes that members of Iraqi minority groups that fled because of persecution find themselves in no-man’s land in Europe, often met by restrictive asylum policies, discrimination and in some cases forcible return.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, around 1.9 million people fled Iraq as a result of sectarian killings following the 2003 US-led invasion.

A disproportionate number of those fleeing Iraq—somewhere between 15-64 per cent, depending on the country of refuge—are minorities, including Christians, Circassians, Sabian Mandaeans, Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis.

The countries with the largest number of Iraqi refugees are Syria (1.1 million), Jordan (450,000), Lebanon (50,000), Sweden (32,120), Egypt (30,000) and the United States (4,700).

According to Carl Soderbergh, the MRGI’s director of policy, European nations like Sweden and Great Britain are turning down many asylum applications and have begun forcibly returning a number of rejected asylum seekers to Iraq, and this despite rising attacks in some areas against minorities.

Although Jordan and Syria have welcomed a large number of Iraqi refugees, many live in a state of limbo, as they are unable to secure residency or work permits. Both countries have since 2007 begun to tighten their visa policies, making it increasingly harder for Iraqis to live there legally.

The MRG report shows how difficult life is for Iraqi refugees when asylum countries do not have a real policy geared towards integration.

The problem is especially bad for certain minorities like the Mandaeans and the Shabak that are very small. Dispersing them within and between countries could lead to their cultural extinction.

The report also provides a number of moving personal stories.

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