The European Union announced on November 27 that it will provide asylum for to up to 10,000 Iraqi refugees currently living in Jordan and Syria.
Germany has volunteered to host the most number of these refugees: 2,500 people. Six E.U. countries currently accept Iraqi refugees, with the largest share so far living in Sweden, which provided asylum to close to 9,000 Iraqis in 2007.
According to E.U. ministers, the focus of this asylum program will be on “refugees in a particularly vulnerable situation such as those with particular medical needs, trauma or torture victims, members of religious minorities or women on their own with family responsibilities.”
The move comes two months after the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR called upon the E.U. to do more for Iraqi refugees, and one day after the publication of a damning report by the international human rights agency Human Rights Watch accusing Greece — location-wise the most favorable entry point for Iraqis into Europe — of systematically rounding up and deporting Iraqi asylum seekers.
According to International Organization for Migration statistics, 2.4 million Iraqi refugees have fled the country since the Iraq war began in 2003, primarily to neighboring Jordan and Syria. An additional 2.7 million have been displaced within Iraq. Security gains following the U.S. military surge in Baghdad and a $195 million Iraqi government initiative to entice refugees home have encouraged the return home of nearly 200,000 Iraqis this year. But the vast majority continue to seek asylum abroad.
Between 2003 and 2006, the United Sates admitted only 770 Iraqi refugees. In response to political pressure, the U.S. government has pledged to admit a minimum of 17,000 Iraqi refugees by the end of the next fiscal year. In fiscal year 2008, which ended on September 30, the U.S. government resettled 13,823 Iraqis, more than eight times the number admitted in the previous year.
WIDE ANGLE’s Iraqi Exodus explored the refugee crisis through the daily lives of displaced Iraqi communities in Syria and Jordan.