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Europe

Rights Groups Urge EU to Take in More Iraqi Refugees

Rights groups have urged the EU to take in more refugees from Iraq, a day before the bloc's ministers meet in Brussels to debate the issue.

Iraqis in a refugee camp in Jordan

Iraqis who have fled to neighboring countries are often stuck in refugee camps for months

Human rights groups and politicians in Germany and other European nations have intensified appeals to the European Union to accept more refugees from Iraq who they say desperately need help.

"Iraqi refugees are in urgent need of protection because in contrast to what Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki says, the security situation is alarming," Julia Duchrow of Amnesty International's Germany chapter told a news conference on Tuesday, Sept 23.

Iraqi refugees in Syria

The UNHCR has said Europe needs to help Jordan and Syria in taking Iraqi refugees

An estimated 2 million Iraqis have fled their homes since the US-led invasion in 2003, with many heading to neighboring countries such as Jordan and Syria, leading to overcrowding in camps. Another 2.7 million are internally displaced.

William Spindler, spokesman for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said the situation in Iraq remained too unsafe for Iraqis, who have taken refuge in countries such as Jordan and Syria, to return home.

A UNHCR poll in March found that 20 percent of Iraqi war refugees live on less than $100 a month, a sizeable jump from five months earlier when only 5 percent of Iraqi refugees were reflected by this statistic.

Groups slam EU procrastination

Spindler urged the European Union to agree to participate in organized attempts to move the refugees to third countries, pointing out that few EU nations had created such repatriation programs.

Sweden leads the way in the EU when it comes to accepting Iraqi refugees, taking in 18,600 last year alone.

The UNHCR says that between April 2007 and September 2008, it managed to find a new home for 14,600 Iraq refugees from Syria, Jordan and other nations in the Mideast. The US took in more than 60 percent while EU nations accepted less than 10 percent, Spindler said.

In July this year, the EU decided to work towards creating better conditions to enable refugees to return back to Iraq rather than increasing their numbers in Europe.

"Periods of reflection, interruptions and playing for time with more research on the ground like the EU plans to do is irresponsible in view of the suffering of refugees," Karl Kopp of the rights group Pro Asyl said at a press conference.

It would be shameful if EU interior ministers postponed a decision to take in more Iraqi refugees, as they did in July last year, Kopp added.

Germany urged to do more

In Germany, which has granted asylum to just 5,760 Iraqis, churches and some politicians have been urging the government to take in more.

In April the EU's Slovenian presidency rejected German proposals to give priority to refugees from Iraq's Christian minority, saying that asylum should be provided without consideration of religion.

Iraki Prime Minister Nur al Maliki

Al Maliki is not in favor of Iraqis migrating to Europe

After a meeting with Iraqi Premier al Maliki in July, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed support for Iraqi government plans to see refugees return home rather than have some of them stay in Europe.

Al Maliki has warned against the migration of whole layers of the Iraqi workforce that would be urgently necessary for the reconstruction of the country.

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