Conclusions and Recommendations

Human Rights Watch believes there is an urgent need for the international community to prepare for a humanitarian crisis in the event of war in Iraq.  Such preparations should include, addressing the severe hardships Iraqi civilians, including the displaced and refugees likely will face, the need for Iraq’s neighbors to open their borders in the event of a humanitarian emergency, assistance to countries likely to receive a massive refugee influx, and the need for increased acceptance by industrialized states of refugees from the region.  Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned that governments not use security concerns to keep their borders closed or introduce legislation that indiscriminately restricts the rights of those fleeing armed conflict or human rights violations.


To the Iraqi government, authorities in northern Iraq, and any parties to an armed conflict

  • Respect the human rights of all Iraqi civilians including the displaced, in accordance with the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the ICCPR, among other standards.

  • Allow U.N., intergovernmental and non-governmental humanitarian agencies full, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all civilians inside Iraq, including the internally displaced.

  • Respect the neutral and impartial character of the work of humanitarian agencies, and grant such agencies the ability to work independent of military or political authorities.

  • Respect the right to freedom of movement of all persons within the territory of Iraq.

  • Allow all persons, including asylum seekers, the freedom to leave Iraq.

To neighboring countries

  • Open borders to refugees from Iraq, particularly in the event of a large-scale refugee influx.

  • Do not deport Iraqi refugees or push them back at the border.

  • Ensure refugees have access to official border crossings to discourage travel through mined and other dangerous areas.

  • Provide training to border and police personnel on providing security and the proper use of force in refugee settings.

  • Do not use the existence of cross-border camps, “safe areas,” or humanitarian zones within Iraq as a justification for withdrawing refugee protection or deterring refugees from crossing international borders to seek protection.

  • Accord those recognized as refugees or prima facie refugees (refugees fleeing a country where conditions are objectively dangerous) their full range of rights under international refugee and human rights law, particularly with relation to freedom of movement and the right to work.

  • Do not impose discriminatory policies upon refugees living in urban areas.

  • Develop in collaboration with donor governments and United Nations agencies, a coordinated strategy to effectively identify and separate armed elements from civilian refugees.

  • Establish any refugee camps in secure accessible areas at a safe distance from international borders in accordance with international refugee protection standards.  Camps should be set up in areas free of landmines or unexploded ordnance, with adequate infrastructure and water supply and humanitarian agencies should have full, free and unimpeded access to the camps.  Refugees should not be held in camps under detention-like conditions.  The security of refugees and humanitarian workers should be ensured.

  • Cooperate fully with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in providing protection to refugees.

To governments outside the region

  • Allow Iraqi and other asylum seekers access to fair and efficient asylum determination procedures.  Immigration controls, including visa restrictions, anti-terrorist and anti-smuggling measures, should not infringe on the rights of all asylum seekers to access fair and efficient asylum determination procedures, and should in no way undermine governments’ international obligations prohibiting arbitrary and indefinite detention or the return of refugees and asylum seekers to territories where their lives or freedom may be threatened.

  • Prepare emergency and additional resettlement possibilities for Iraqi refugees.

  • Ensure that Iraqi refugees are given full access to resettlement referrals, and that they are accepted for resettlement.

  • Ensure that immigration control measures include procedural safeguards in conformity with international standards for migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who are arrested, detained, or in the process of deportation.  At a minimum, those safeguards must include the rights to judicial review; an explanation of rights and the reasons for their detention in their own language or a language that they understand; immediate and regular access to family, legal counsel, and a medical officer; communication with representatives of international humanitarian agencies; an effective legal remedy to challenge the lawfulness of detention and obtain release if the detention is arbitrary or unlawful; access to a judicial authority to complain about possible mistreatment; and the right to seek and obtain compensation for arbitrary detention or other abuse.

  • Ensure that temporary protection is used only when reception systems are overwhelmed. Prevent resort to temporary protection as a means of indefinitely denying refugees access to a permanent status and their rights under the Refugee Convention.

  • Prevent the return of rejected asylum seekers to any part of Iraq until it is clear that their safety and freedom can be guaranteed throughout the territory.

  • Suspend safe third country rules for Iraqi asylum seekers for the duration of any crisis and do not in any event return Iraqi asylum seekers to countries neighboring Iraq.

  • Take measures to provide leadership in counteracting and preventing attacks against nationals, immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees on the basis of their ethnic origin, nationality, religious and political beliefs and backgrounds.  Increased protection should be provided to these groups, and government leaders should, in their public statements and actions, take the lead in countering xenophobic and racist acts.

To donor governments and intergovernmental humanitarian agencies

  • Put in place plans to address the humanitarian consequences of a potential war in Iraq, paying particular attention to cooperation among agencies to ensure that in the event of an armed conflict, humanitarian relief and protection is promptly and efficiently provided to the entire population.

  • In the event of war, provide increased financial assistance to address the humanitarian problems likely to strike the civilian population inside Iraq, including the internally displaced, as well as to assist  Iraqi refugees and countries called upon to host them.

  • Urgently explore options for ensuring that assistance reaches those most in need, especially the very poor, young, aged, and the internally displaced, without endangering them.  Efforts must be taken to ensure that U.N. and humanitarian agencies have full, safe, and unimpeded humanitarian access to civilians inside Iraq.

  • Provide international assistance to neighboring countries and countries in the region, including to their current urban refugee populations, to cope with the potential outflow of refugees from Iraq.

To donor governments

  • Develop in collaboration with host governments in the region and United Nations agencies a coordinated strategy to effectively identify and separate armed elements from civilian refugees. Separation should take place inside host countries at the border and involve an international monitoring presence.