From Sr. Stella Goodpasture, OP
On June 20, people across the globe observed World Refugee Day. Two days earlier, the UN Refugee Agency announced that over 100,000 Iraqi refugees have been referred for resettlement since 2007. Of those, a little over 50 percent have actually been resettled in a new country.
Minority rights in Iraq must be protected.
For Iraqi asylum seekers, the news is not so good. Over the past month, several European countries have deported or forcibly returned asylum seekers to Iraq, raising concerns for their safety once they return. Because of the threat returned asylum seekers face, this practice goes against established UN guidelines for the protection and treatment of asylum seekers.
Minorities are particularly vulnerable if they are forcibly returned to Iraq, as they are still threatened with targeted violence every day. In the three months between July and September 2009, Amnesty International documented the deaths of 155 minorities in attacks targeted at minorities.
Turkmen, Yazidis, Shabak, Iraqi Christians of various denominations, and other religious and ethnic minorities have a long history in Iraq. Today, they are disproportionately driven from their homes due to violence. In fact, while significant security gains have been made throughout Iraq since 2008, in the disputed northern territories and cities like Mosul, violence against minorities is still a daily occurrence. Minorities have been forced to flee their homes at gunpoint.
In attacks against the Chaldo-Assyrian Christian community in 2008 that killed 40 people, Human Rights Watch reported “graffiti in Christian neighborhoods with messages such as ‘get out or die,’ and anti-Christian messages disseminated by loudspeakers mounted on cars, threatening Christians if they did not leave.”
The Brookings Institution estimates that only 500,000 Iraqi Christians remain in Iraq of the 1 to 1.4 million that lived there prior to 2003. The rest have fled and now live as refugees or asylum seekers. For the religious and ethnic minorities who cannot return to Iraq, they must be resettled in new countries without fear of deportation. In Iraq, steps must be taken to ensure minorities are protected, legally and physically. Attacks on minorities cannot go unpunished.
The United States must urge the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to investigate alleged human rights abuses against minorities. Ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq must not be forced to choose between their lives and their homes.
Sincerely, Lauren Jenkins
EPIC: Promoting a Free & Secure Iraq
900 Second Street NE, Suite 216
Washington, DC 20002