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World News

Iraq urges neighbors to end abuse of refugees

AMMAN (Reuters) - Iraq on Thursday urged countries hosting more than 2 million Iraqi refugees who have fled violence at home to stop mistreating those arriving at their borders and avoid their forcible return until stability returns.

Head of the Iraqi delegation Mohammed al Haj Hmoud speaks to the media on Iraqi refugees during the opening of an international conference in Amman July 26, 2007. Reuters/ Muhammad Hamed

Iraq’s deputy foreign minister Mohammad al-Haj Hamoud, who was addressing a U.N. backed experts meeting on the status of refugees, said his country’s neighbors must alleviate the plight of the hundreds of thousands who fled to safety abroad after the U.S. led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“The moral and humanitarian duty dictates they extend their hand to ease the burden on the refugees and facilitate their stay until they can return back,” Hamoud told the gathering that was attended by delegates from Turkey, Iran and U.N agencies.

Up to half of the refugees are being sheltered by neighbors Syria and Jordan, which say they are struggling to shoulder the burden, while nearly 2 million are displaced across Iraq.

U.N. agencies say they are driven out by violence, poor services, losing their jobs and facing an uncertain future.

Hamoud, who appealed for more donor aid, said host countries had a moral imperative to help them cope better with difficult living conditions and meager incomes by giving them access to public schools and medical centers.

Hamoud said efforts to stem the flow of refugees by Jordan and to a lesser extent Syria, who now impose tougher entry restrictions and residency conditions, resulted in many cases of mistreatment at border crossings.

He said Iraqis holding legitimate passports and visas underwent humiliating detention at airports for days before being deported without any justification.

SECURITY CONCERNS

Turning away Iraqi families who risked their lives by taking the arduous land journey through areas suffering widescale fighting to reach safety at Iraq’s border crossings with its neighbors was inhumane, Hamoud said.

“There are some countries that are returning back large numbers of Iraqis from the borders and preventing them from entering,” said Hamoud.

“This is contrary to the most basic humanitarian rules.”

There was no immediate comment from either Jordan or Syria. However, both countries say they are doing the best they can to accommodate the refugees, but need more help from Iraq and the international community.

Security concerns cited by countries such as Jordan which fear infiltration of militants do not justify the indiscriminate manner in which ordinary families are being treated, he said.

“The security concerns of these countries does not justify treating Iraqis in such a humiliating manner,” he said.

Syria hosts some 1.2 million Iraqis, a number equal to 12 percent of its own population, and says it needs $256 million to maintain aid, health care and education over the next two years.

Jordan says the 750,000 Iraqi refugees inside its borders cost it $1 billion a year, stretching the resources of a country of just 5.6 million.

While recognizing the difficulties faced by Jordan and Syria in absorbing the refugees who have stretched resources, Western and Iraqi human rights groups have expressed concern the countries were making it harder for fleeing Iraqis to enter.

They say there are also cases of refugees being forcibly returned in violation of international humanitarian law.

“We urge our neighbors to grant residency permits to Iraqis who entered and allow them to stay until the right conditions arise for their return,” the senior Iraqi diplomat said.

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