Four hundred Iraqi refugees are set to land in Germany later this month. They are the first of a larger group that the EU has agreed to permanently resettle. But German human rights groups are calling for more.
Conditions in some of the camps are very difficult
Human rights groups have welcomed the start of the program, but see it as just scratching the surface of the problem. German organizations called on Berlin to establish a permanent resettlement scheme.
The EU decided in November to take in 10,000 of the most vulnerable refugees who had fled war-torn Iraq. Germany is set to receive 2,500 from camps in Syria and Iran. Other member states participating in the scheme are Britain, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.
Priority was given to single mothers, post-traumatic stress sufferers and those with family ties in Europe, according to the EU criteria.
Successsful asylum applicants had to have a clean criminal record and not have been members of Saddam Hussein's former Baath party.
Way out for trapped refugees
Many refugees fear Iraq is still too dangerous to go back or fear persecution
Guenter Burkhardt from the organization Pro Asyl described the scheme as starting to offer a way out of a "dead-end" for people from religious minorities and others in need of protection from Iraq. But he added that far more than 2,500 people were in need of help, describing it as a drop in the ocean.
Burkhardt said that an ongoing resettlement program should be set up in Germany. "There is room in Germany," he said. "Many of these people are educated. Our society needs people like them."
Julia Duchrow, from Amnesty International, expressed confidence that it would be possible to achieve a political consensus in Germany in favor of a permanent annual scheme. But she did not quantify the number of refugees that she would like to see taken in.
Duchrow said priority should be given to people with relatives in Germany, as that helped to promote their integration.
Essential to integrate the new arrivals
Syria is a home to some 1.5 million Iraqi refugees and says it can't cope
The first group of 400, including Christians and members of other religious minorities, will initially be housed in northern Germany, where they will be issued a three-year, extendable, residency permit.
"The arrival of the first people represents a success on our behalf, but we need to bear in mind that this is only the first phase of a long process," Duchrow, from Amnesty International, told reporters.
Burkhardt, from Pro Asly said it was essential to enable a "successful integration" of the group, adding that refugees are often forced to live on the periphery of society.
About two million Iraqi refugees have fled to Jordan and Syria since the invasion of the country by US-led forces in March 2003.
The Federal Office for Refugees and Migrants said Iraqis accounted for around one third of asylum applications received since the start of 2009.
The number of asylum applicants in Germany has dropped dramatically in recent years. While 1995 saw more than 500,000 people applying for asylum, the number reached just 20,000 in 2008, according to government figures.