November 10, 2010
Bombs Targeting Christians in Baghdad Fuel Refugee Concerns
Washington, DC – In the wake of a series of Baghdad bomb explosions targeting Christians, Human Rights First's Eleanor Acer issued the following statement highlighting concerns about Iraq's minorities and Iraqi refugees: "These recent attacks raise renewed concerns about the safety of religious and other minorities in Iraq, as well as the ability of the Iraqi government to protect its people from violence. Iraqi leaders should take immediate steps to protect religious and other minorities from violence and threats. "For the many Iraqis who have already fled from their homes, these violent attacks are vivid reminders of the tenuous security situation and targeted violence in Iraq. These dangers may exacerbate the existing concerns that many refugees have about the potential for returning back home to Iraq. It is more important than ever for the United States to continue to lead the international community in ensuring that the needs of Iraq's refugees and displaced people are met, including through maintaining a robust resettlement program for at risk Iraqi refugees. In addition, the U.S. and the international community should be prepared to address all possible scenarios, including an increased exodus from Iraq." Since the sectarian violence that erupted in February 2006 following the Samarra Mosque bombing, approximately 1.5 million people remain internally displaced within Iraq. As of May 2010, another 225,000 Iraqi refugees had registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. Since 2007, Human Rights First has worked to secure an effective response to address the protection and assistance needs of Iraqi refugees and displaced persons. It has pointed out that the United States has a moral obligation – as well as a strategic interest – to lead the international community in responding to the protection concerns of Iraq's refugees and displaced persons. In July 2010, Human Rights First offered testimony on the subject of Iraqi refugees before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the U.S. Helsinki Commission). Human Rights First's key recommendations for the United States include: • The United States should continue to support the protection of Iraqi refugees and displaced people, by leading the international community in providing assistance for Iraqis who have been displaced by the violence in Iraq and by encouraging other states to join more robustly in this effort. • The Department of State, with other relevant agencies, should take additional steps to improve the pace of resettlement for Iraqi refugees – at present, they can wait a year or more for their applications to be processed – so that refugees are not left stranded in difficult or dangerous circumstances for extended periods of time; • The Department of State, with other relevant agencies, should enhance capacity to expedite the resettlement of refugees who face imminent harm by developing a transparent and formal expedited procedure for refugees who face an imminent risk of harm; and • The Department of State, working with the Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies, should improve the staffing, coordination, and timeliness of the security clearance process so that Iraqi refugees are not left stranded in difficult and dangerous situations. For more information about Human Rights First's work on this issue, contact Brenda Bowser Soder at 202-370-3323.