Britain 'ignoring' millions of Iraqi refugees

By staff writers
24 Sep 2007

Britain has been accused of ignoring the plight of millions of refugees fleeing the violence in Iraq.

Following calls by many Christian groups, the Pope, the UNHCR, and other international agencies, a report by Amnesty International has said it was "staggering" that the UK had forcibly returned more refugees to Iraq than any other European nation.

As one of the countries which led the 2003 invasion, the report said that Britain now had a "moral obligation" to provide financial assistance to the estimated two million refugees stranded in Syria and Europe.

An estimated 2.2 million people have been uprooted within the country and another 2 million forced to flee completely.

It has produced the worst refugee crisis in the Middle East since the mass exodus of Palestinians that was part of the violent birth of the state of Israel in 1948.

However there is no British programme for resettling Iraqis in the UK - even for those who have served the UK authorities. Last year only 55 were granted some form of asylum.

The thinktank Ekklesia is amongst those who have previously proposed that Britain take many more Iraqi refugees. In March, Ekklesia's director Jonathan Bartley told BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show that Britain must face up to its 'moral responsibilities' with regard to Iraq.

Ekklesia's co-director Jonathan Bartley told BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show; "Britain and the US were responsible for this mess. They have a duty to help to clean it up. This means being prepared to take more than a few hundred refugees.

"If Syria and Jordan, with much smaller populations than our own can take steps to provide for close to two million refugees, then we can certainly do our bit too. At the very least we should be undertaking to resource these countries. The cost would after all only be a fraction of the final bill for waging the war."

Later that month Christians gave evidence to the United Nations on the subject, urging Britain and US to open their doors to Iraq's displaced people.

The statement was given by Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Pax Christi International and 4 more partner organizations.

In December 2006, the Pope also made an appeal for the international community to do more.

"The international community has largely ignored the plight of millions of Iraqis displaced inside and outside Iraq," said Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen.

"It's staggering that the UK is sending people back to Iraq when it should be helping Syria and Jordan to cope with this refugee crisis.

"As one of the countries involved in the invasion of Iraq, it has a moral obligation to help those displaced by the bloodshed that has followed."

The report warned that the lack of international support meant that Syria and Jordan were preparing to tighten controls on their borders with Iraq, cutting off an escape route for people still hoping to flee the country.

It said that the "modest steps" taken so far by the international community simply did not match up to the magnitude of the crisis.

It complained that some pledges of assistance had still to be honoured, while the level of support that had been delivered was "seriously insufficient" given the actual needs on the ground.

The UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, believes that about 2,000 Iraqis are leaving their homes every day to escape violence, persecution and economic uncertainty.

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