September 23, 2008 / 3:07 PM / 11 years ago

United Nations urges EU to host more Iraqi refugees

GENEVA, Sept 23 (Reuters) - The European Union should host more Iraqi refugees and rethink its official stance focusing on helping displaced Iraqis return home, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Tuesday.

Iraq is not safe enough for the 2 million Iraqis who escaped war and insurgent fighting in recent years by fleeing to neighbouring Syria, Jordan, and other countries, UNHCR spokesman William Spindler said.

"UNHCR hopes that the majority of Iraqi refugees will be able to return home in safety once the necessary conditions of stability and security are established. However, these conditions are not yet present," he told a news briefing in Geneva.

"We hope that the ministers of justice and home affairs will commit the European Union to participation in organised resettlement efforts," he added ahead of a Thursday meeting of ministers from the EU’s 27 member states.

In July, the EU said its top priority was to create conditions to allow Iraqi refugees to return home and did not call for more EU countries to resettle Iraqi refugees.

The UNHCR has long lobbied the EU to accept more refugees from Iraq, where conditions remain volatile more than five years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein and unleashed sectarian violence verging on civil war.

In addition to those who fled across international borders, there are about 2.5 million Iraqis displaced inside the country.

The United States took in more than 60 percent of the 14,600 Iraqi refugees that the UNHCR resettled over the past 18 months. EU states took in just 10 percent, the UNHCR said.

In the first seven months of this year, it said Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom took in the greatest number of Iraqis seeking asylum in the bloc. Non-EU countries Norway and Turkey also let in significant numbers. (Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Opheera McDoom and Stephanie Nebehay)

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