The United Nations refugee agency has called on European governments to halt deportations of Iraqis, denouncing a forced return of some 60 Iraqis on Friday it said was at least the third since April.
61 Iraqis were deported on Wednesday, the UNHCR said
A chartered flight with up to 61 Iraqis who had been living in Britain, Denmark, Norway and Sweden landed at Baghdad airport on Wednesday, coinciding with the end of the US combat operations in Iraq, the United Nations refugee agency confirmed to Deutsche Welle on Friday.
"We strongly urge European governments to provide Iraqis with protection until the situation in their areas of origin in Iraq allows for safe and voluntary returns,"said Adrian Edwards, spokesman of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR).
The UNHCR has issued guidelines to all governments strongly recommending that Iraqis should not be sent home to five central provinces, including Baghdad, as those areas remain dangerous.
"Car explosions, roadside bombs, mortar attacks and kidnapping remain daily threats for Iraqis," Edwards told a news briefing, according to news agency Reuters. "In this critical time of transition, we also encourage all efforts to develop conditions in Iraq that are conducive to sustainable and voluntary return."
Mandatory international protection
Friday's deportation coincides with US troop withdrawals
The United States is wrapping up its combat role at a time when political tensions in Iraq remain high. Six months after an inconclusive election, major parties have yet to agree on the shape of a coalition government.
Roughly 50,000 US soldiers still in Iraq are moving to an advisory role in which they will train and support Iraq's army and police. US President Barack Obama has promised to pull all American troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011.
The provinces of Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Salahuddin continue to be plagued by serious human rights violations and security incidents, according to the UNHCR.
"Our position is that Iraqi asylum applicants originating from these five governorates should benefit from international protection in the form of refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention or an alternative form of protection," Edwards said.
Over one million Iraqi refugees in neighboring lands
According to the UNHCR, deportations of Iraqis from Western Europe began in April. Spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes said this was the third coordinated forced return since.
Some of the latest returnees may be destined for safer areas such as the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, while others may have elected to return voluntarily, Wilkes added.
Neighboring Jordan and Syria still host an estimated 1.6 million Iraqis who have fled violence and persecution, with another 50,000 in Lebanon, according to government figures provided to the UNHCR.
"We are certainly concerned about the message this gives to surrounding countries that need to continue to give the protection they have offered," Edwards said.
Author: Gabriel Borrud
Editor: Martin Kuebler