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Iraq: U.S. and Allies Must Protect Refugees
Jordan Should Not Block Trapped Refugees
(New York, April 23, 2003) The United States and allied forces, as occupying powers in Iraq, have an obligation to protect refugees living inside the country from threats, physical attacks and forced displacement, Human Rights Watch said today.

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"Most of these refugees fled to Iraq from persecution in their home countries years ago. Now they are facing new threats in a country that was once a relatively safe haven."

Alison Parker
Refugee Policy Expert
Human Rights Watch

A group of more than 1,000 Iranian Kurd, Palestinian, Sudanese, Somali and Syrian refugees have faced threats and attacks during the past week, according to reports collected by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Despite repeated pleas by UNHCR to admit all 1000 refugees who fled to the border, Jordan has so far only allowed 150 refugees entry.

"Most of these refugees fled to Iraq from persecution in their home countries years ago," said Alison Parker, a refugee protection expert at Human Rights Watch. "Now they are facing new threats in a country that was once a relatively safe haven."

Of particular concern are the more than 400 refugee children at risk because of difficult humanitarian conditions in the border region. Human Rights Watch said the children and their families should be allowed to enter the refugee camps in Jordan without delay so that medical relief can be provided.

The refugees told UNHCR that groups of armed Iraqis forced them from their homes and threatened that, if they refused to leave Iraq, the men would be killed and the women raped. Others said that they fled because of the lack of food and water in the places where they normally reside, including the Bijii and Balediyat neighborhoods in Baghdad, and the al-Hurriya and al-Tash refugee camps outside of Baghdad.

Human Rights Watch said that the United States and allied forces, as occupying powers, must ensure security for the local population under their control and authority, including refugees residing in the country. This includes:

  • Preventing third parties from attacking or forcibly displacing civilians, especially particularly vulnerable groups such as the 128,000 refugees living in Iraq.
  • All women, including refugees, should be protected against any attack, in particular rape.
  • Child refugees must also be afforded appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance.
  • All civilians inside Iraq must be treated with the same consideration by the occupying powers without any adverse distinction based, in particular, on national origin, race, religion or political opinion.
  • Finally, the occupying powers must ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches refugees.

UNHCR's Executive Committee has stated that governments should always admit asylum seekers at least on a temporary basis and provide them with protection without any discrimination.

"Jordan should allow these refugees to enter, at least on a temporary basis," said Parker. "When conditions of lawlessness put refugees at grave risk in Iraq, where else can they turn for safety but neighboring countries?"

Jordan has cited concerns that some of the refugees pose security problems. Human Rights Watch recommended that Jordan put in place measures to screen individuals for security risks, but said that all of the trapped refugees should be allowed to cross the border and enter the Ruweished camps in Jordan immediately, at least until their security in Iraq can be assured.