ECRE Questionnaire on the Treatment of Iraqi Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Europe, April 2004 - Summary

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ECRE undertook a short survey during the period of February-April 2004 in order to collate up-to-date, detailed information on how governments in Europe are responding to the continuing presence of Iraqis in need of international protection in their countries. ECRE has done this through designing and disseminating a questionnaire to refugee-assisting organisations in nineteen countries. Most of the organisations from whom responses were requested are members of ECRE and all of them work directly with asylum seekers and refugees from all over the world, including Iraq.

The nineteen countries surveyed are all European with the exception of Australia and the United States. They are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. The questionnaire covers the last three years, from 2001 to 2003, with information for 2000 sometimes available. The information provided includes the estimated number of Iraqi refugees present in each country, the number and nature of decisions taken on their applications for asylum, policies toward the processing of asylum applications and the return of those whose applications have been rejected, and more general information on the types of protection status Iraqis are receiving.

Key findings of the survey include:

· The countries reporting the highest number of Iraqi refugees are Denmark (12,000), Norway (15,000), Sweden (60-70,000), and Germany (150,000) . However, these numbers are not directly comparable as some take into account only recognised refugees (Sweden), while others include estimates of Iraqis with and without a legal status, eg Germany.

· With the exception of just three countries (Germany, The Netherlands, and Australia), Iraqi asylum applications are being processed, in many cases after a period of suspension established during the run-up to the war in the beginning of 2003.

· Overall, fewer applications have been received in the last year, yet applications from Kurdish asylum seekers remain a significant portion of the total asylum applications from Iraqis received in those countries where such statistics are available.

· In the majority of cases where statistics are available, fewer Iraqis were granted asylum or a subsidiary form of protection in 2003 than in the previous two years.

· The vastly different asylum procedures and policies of the eighteen different countries surveyed makes it difficult to highlight any overall pattern regarding the proportion of Iraqi applicants that are receiving some kind of status. For example, in Greece, where Iraqis make up almost half the number of the 6,791 asylum applications received from 2001 to 2003, none were recognised as refugees at the first instance, while in France about one-third of the 246 Iraqi applicants were granted asylum at the first instance.

· At the moment, the United Kingdom is the only country that has officially announced a program for the forced return of Iraqi asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected. In several other countries, return is not officially under moratorium, but due to logistical difficulties (eg the inability to secure transit visas) forced return is not practised.

· In some countries, policy towards Iraqis from northern Iraq and those from central and southern Iraq differ. In Lithuania, deportation to northern Iraq is now legal but not enforced because it is under appeal. In the Netherlands, northern Iraqis are more likely to have their asylum applications rejected and the return moratorium to northern Iraq has been lifted. The Swedish Migration Board has also given indications that it believes the northern part of Iraq is a safe place to return. However, deportations have not yet occurred, again probably because of logistical reasons.

· Scant benefits exist for those Iraqi asylum seekers whose applications are rejected. In Sweden, Finland, and Belgium reduced benefits are offered, while in Greece, Iraqis whose applications are rejected are left with no access to social welfare systems and, in France, they are allowed to stay but not given any papers. In Norway, asylum seekers whose applications have not succeeded but who meet certain deadlines are offered a financial aid package contingent on their selecting to return to Iraq.

The rule of law and the protection of basic human rights are not in place in Iraq and insecurity persists throughout the country, including northern Iraq. In this respect most governments of the countries surveyed share the same approach in terms of not undertaking forced returns of Iraqis. However their approaches with regard to the treatment of Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers in their countries vary widely. For detailed recommendations on this, please see ECRE's Guidelines on the Treatment of Iraqi Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Europe - April 2004.

(April 2004)

For further information contact the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) at:

103 Worship Street
London EC2A 2DF
United Kingdom
Tel +44 (0) 20 7377 7556
Fax +44 (0) 20 7377 7586

205 rue Belliard
Box 14
1040 Brussels
Tel +32 (0)2 514 59 39
Fax +32 (0)2 514 59 22

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