IRQ figures


According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Iraq hosted some 42,350 registered refugees, primarily in Baghdad and the Kurdish-administered regions, as well as nearly 2,500 asylum seekers. They included Palestinians and various ethnic and ideological minorities fleeing persecution in Iran, Syria, and Turkey.

Just under 15,000 Palestinians remained out of 35,000 that arrived beginning in 1948 through the 1991 Gulf War. Over 100 Sudanese who arrived as workers under the Hussein regime lived in a desert camp in western Iraq after militias expelled them from Baghdad in 2005. Syrians in Iraq included almost 100 Kurds and nearly 500 Baathists fleeing the regime. Three groups of Iranians lived in Iraq: nearly 9,400 Kurds, almost 1,700 Ahwazi Arabs, and about 3,000 members of the Mujahideen al-Khalq. Turkish Kurds numbered around 15,600.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers.

Nearly 40 Palestinian refugees died between January and November. Two brothers died when militiamen fired on refugees near Al Karamah hospital in late January. That same week, masked gunmen wearing Ministry of Interior uniforms attacked several women and abducted 27 Palestinians in Baghdad, firing at a UNHCR rented building in the process. In February, there were 31 attacks against Palestinian refugees and 8 died after unknown assailants attacked them. Palestinian sources also reported the abduction of at least 15 refugees by insurgents and U.S. troops in different incidents. Two of the abductees returned, two died of torture, and the rest remained missing. Refugees reported that gunmen frequently raided their homes to attack and rob them. In March, Shi'a gunmen abducted a refugee in front of his children and killed him. As part of the Baghdad Security Plan or "surge," Multi-National Forces in Iraq (MNF-I) and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) raided the Palestinian district of Al Baladiyat, shooting and killing a Palestinian. In June, unknown assailants abducted, tortured, and killed a Palestinian lawyer defending four Palestinian detainees. In August, gunmen, allegedly from the Mahdi Army, abducted, tortured, and killed a Palestinian taxi-driver.

After Iranian agents assassinated 4 of Ahwazi Iranians, around 100 of them fled to Trebil on the Iraqi Jordanian border. Unknown agents kidnapped Syrian refugees because of their Baathist affiliations.

In January, militiamen abducted four Syrian refugees from their homes.

Although Iraq was not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, the 1971 Refugee Act prohibited refoulement. The northern governorates had no status determination procedure, so UNHCR registered asylum seekers.

A still-valid Coaltion Provisional Authority order assigned 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 lacked the capacity to determine refugee status, which left UNHCR in charge of the procedure. The Committee disputed the status of certain refugee groups, such as the Syrian Arabs.

U.S. troops protected the Iranian Mujahideen al-Khalq at Camp Ashraf outside Baghdad, after the U.S. Defense Secretary declared them protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Detention/Access to Courts

MNF-I and ISF arrested and detained at least 100 refugees for alleged terrorism and insurgency, often without charges or judicial review. UNHCR often did not have access to detainees or to information about their conditions, but received reports of serious abuses and torture, which authorities denied. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had access to MNF-I detainees.

MNF-I and ISF detained at least eight Syrian refugees but released four. As of April 2008, eight Syrian refugees remained in detention, but it was not clear which force held them.

In mid-January, Iraqi security forces broke into two UNHCR buildings that housed Palestinians and arrested 30 men, whom they later released. Later that month, gunmen in police uniforms seized 17 Palestinians from another UNHCR building in Al Batawyen, central Baghdad. That same day, Iraqi security forces detained 13 Palestinians in the eastern Baghdad district of Al Amin.

ISF and MNF-I arrested 60 Palestinians during a March raid in Al Baladiyat, after which they released all but 4 men. As of mid-August, all four remained in prison without trial or charges.

Authorities did not issue any identity cards to refugees and asylum seekers during the year, but because refugees had access to the Public Distribution System (PDS) their PDS cards doubled as identity cards. Palestinian families had to appear before the Department of Residency every one to three months to renew their registration and the staff occasionally confiscated their documents. Refugees in central and southern Iraq holding identity cards issued by the former regime could not renew them once they expired. Of the three Kurdish governorates, Dahuk and Erbil required refugees to hold renewable residency permits, but complying with the 1971 Refugee Act, Sulaymaniyah did not.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Although there were no legal restrictions on refugees' freedom of movement or choice of residence, the general lawlessness, physical attacks, and arbitrary detention restricted refugees' movement in southern and central Iraq especially Palestinians without valid identification. In the wake of the March raid on Al Baladiyat, 41 Palestinians fled to the border and reported that ISF had thrown out their furniture and ordered them to leave their homes within two days.

In the Kurdish governorates, Iranian refugees possessed identity cards that let them travel in the area, but needed permission from the regional government to go to other parts of Iraq. Turkish refugees in Makhmour refugee camp could move freely within the district, but they risked detention if they did not carry identification and authorization from camp authorities to leave the district for more than a day.

Some 3,000 Palestinians sought shelter in two camps, Al Tanf in the no-man's-land between Syria and Iraq and Al Waleed on the border with Syria. In May, a government delegation outlined three options to residents: they could return to their homes in Baghdad under government protection; they could return to their homes and wait for UNHCR to resettle them outside Iraq; or they could go to a camp for at least 750 families in Al Baladiyat, Baghdad. The Palestinians refused all three options and remained in Al Waleed, where Iraqi security forces intimidated and verbally abused them, and where unidentified outsiders sexually harassed female residents.

Around 200 Iranian Kurds, mostly below the age of 18, continued to live in a makeshift camp on the Iraq-Jordan border. Despite UNHCR advice to move to Kurdish controlled areas, the Iranians, from a minority sect, refused, citing fear of persecution and their unwillingness to live in a camp. Meanwhile some 9,300 Iranian Kurds integrated in the Kurdish governorates in Kawa and Barika, where they received houses.

The Government issued Palestinians blue travel documents that distinguished them from Iraqis, who received green passports. Many refugees forged identification cards and passports to move around or leave Iraq. Authorities stamped the passports of Palestinians with the words "right to exit, no right to return" when they left the country. Neighboring countries did not accept Palestinian passports or Palestinians' Iraqi travel documents. After UNHCR announced in late June that at least 12 camp residents needed urgent medical care, however, in early August, Syria admitted 4 seriously ill Palestinian children for medical treatment.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The 1971 Refugee Act provided for refugees' right to work, and in the Kurdish areas, they could work legally under permission from the President's office, but there was no authorization for asylum seekers. In the Kurdish governorates, refugees worked in farming, trade, and construction. Refugees in Dahuk and Erbil had to get work permits, but in Sulaymaniyah, Iranian asylum seekers did not to work as laborers, shopkeepers, mechanics, and construction workers. Although technically under the 1971 Refugee Act, refugees enjoyed the same labor rights as citizens, in practice they did not. Refugees in central and southern Iraq had difficulty finding jobs because of their lack of documentation.

The 1971 Refugee Act did not specifically provide for refugee property ownership, but earlier legal provisions benefited Syrian refugees. Refugees were unable to register businesses, own land, or open bank accounts, as all of these activities required Iraqi national identification documents.

Public Relief and Education

In October, an Iranian Kurd woman died in an Iraqi hospital near Al Tash camp after a Jordanian hospital discharged her and her condition worsened after returning to the rough conditions at the camp. In November, three persons died of illness, including two Palestinian boys suffering from malnutrition and cancer while awaiting resettlement from Iraq.

The Government cooperated with UNHCR as it aided refugees but many aid workers left after receiving death threats and attacks. UNHCR worked through partner NGOs, while the Iraqi Red Crescent and Iraq Aid Association (IAA) also operated. In January, insurgents turned back IAA volunteers bringing supplies to Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Baghdad.

Iranian camp residents received food from the ICRC and an Iranian-American relief organization, which also donated medical supplies and school supplies. UNHCR helped Iranian Kurdish refugees who moved to the Kawa camp in Erbil with vocational training. Some 223 families received houses, and the agency provided internal roads, water, and electricity to Kawa residents. Despite limited access to Al Waleed camp, through the Italian Consortium for Solidarity (ICS), UNHCR gave residents rations, non-food items, electricity, and fuel. ICRC provided water, sanitation services, and medical supplies. Medicines were in short supply, and only one doctor was available for all 1,550 residents, many of whom suffered from asthma, cancer, and heart problems. ICS took seriously ill patients to a hospital every two weeks. Aid officials said Palestinian children in the desert camps suffered from lack of food and medicine.

The Refugee Act entitled refugees to the same health and education services as nationals and, in the Kurdish regions, UNHCR and the regional government provided these services. Refugees without identity documents, however, had difficulty attending school and getting other services. Some 430 children attended school in Al Waleed, where UNHCR paid for 12 teachers.

USCRI Reports

  • USCR Welcomes Start of Iraqi Refugee Repatriation; Urges International Community to Facilitate Return of Other Iraqis Wishing to Return Home (Press Releases)
  • USCR Says Slow Progress in Iraq Rehabilitation Impedes Iraqi Refugee Repatriation; Finds that Iraqis Lack Information and Feel Excluded from Decision-Making (Press Releases)
  • World Refugee Survey 2003: 4.3 Million Newly Uprooted Find Post-September 11 World More Hostile and Refuge in Short Supply (Press Releases)
  • USCR Calls on U.S. Forces to Protect Iranian and Other Refugees in Iraq (Press Releases)
  • Overview of Numbers and Conditions of Iraqi Refugees in the Middle East and Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq (Press Releases)
  • Iraqi Refugee Admissions Resume, But U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program Remains in Disarray (Press Releases)
  • USCR Acutely Concerned Regarding U.S. Government Decision to Bar Admission of Iraqi Refugees (Press Releases)
  • 1 million people became refugees in 2004 (USCRI Headlines)

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