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Iraqi asylum seekers in Jordan to increase threefold

[Jordan] Living conditions at the Iraq-Jordan border have deteriorated with strong winds during the day and temperatures falling to zero degrees celsius at night. [Date picture taken: 12/05/2006]
Some Iraqi asylum seekers are stranded on the Iraq-Jordan border. (IRIN)

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said on Wednesday that the number of Iraqi asylum seekers in Jordan was expected to increase threefold as a result of operational changes within the agency.

“We want to adjust the way we have been working in countries like Jordan and Syria and our goal by the end of 2007 is to have 200,000 more asylum seekers registered,” Guterres said.

Officials in UNHCR say that the agency will increase it staff in order to handle greater numbers of people for registration.

“Procedures are also being adjusted in order to reduce the current waiting period and to process cases more quickly and smoothly,” Robert Breen, UNHCR’s Jordan office Representative, said.

Some 22,000 Iraqi asylum seekers are already registered with UNHCR in Jordan, out of whom only 600 have been given refugee status by the Jordanian authorities.

The refugee agency said it hoped to accelerate its registration process and increase the number of asylum seekers by 38,000 by the end of the year. Once registered, asylum seekers go through a series of interviews to determine their status before they can be granted refugee status by the host country.

One of the reasons given by UNHCR in Amman for the low number of Iraqis registered as asylum seekers in Jordan was a lack of sufficient manpower to cope with the huge number of applications.

In his meetings with Jordanian government officials, Guterres also discussed the issue - raised by rights groups - of the many Iraqis in Jordan whose tourist visas have long expired but who face a daily threat of arrest, fines and deportation if discovered by the police.

“UNHCR’s mandate and concerns will take into full consideration the legitimate security concerns of the Jordanian government,” said Breen about the talks.

UNHCR estimates on the number of Iraqis who have fled to neighbouring countries include up to 700,000 in Jordan; from 500,000 to one million in Syria; 20,000 to 80,000 in Egypt; and up to 40,000 in Lebanon. Turkey has an unknown number of Iraqis who have sought refuge there.

Biggest movement of refugees

“This is the biggest movement of refugees in the Middle East since the Palestinian crisis [of 1948 when millions of Palestinians were forced off their land following the establishment of the State of Israel] and it is a problem that the international community has neglected,” said Guterres.

Because of such an enormous influx of Iraqis, Jordan has over the past year been saying that the country cannot cope, particularly because of the strain of the refugees on public services.

UNHCR’s second most urgent need is to increase its capacity to resettle the most needy, such as unaccompanied children, women and special medical cases.

“We have received positive signs from the international community, especially the US, that they will accept more refugees,” Guterres said.

In order to carry out their new approach, the refugee agency in January launched an appeal for US $60 million to cover the agency’s protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people in Iraq itself.

So far, sources from within the agency say they have received about US $8m; US $2 million from Sweden and US $6 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Revolving Fund. In addition, there have been pledges for some US $40 million.

Guterres’ visit to Jordan was part of a Middle East tour that included Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The aim of the trip was to strengthen cooperation between UNHCR and partners in the four countries and to review programmes for Iraqi asylum seekers and refugees in the region.

Regarding the international community, Guterres also urged third countries to support states hosting Iraqis.

The UN refugee agency will host an international conference in mid-April in Geneva to discuss the humanitarian implications of Iraqis fleeing to other countries en masse.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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