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Saturday, 27 April 2013

Iraqi minority refugees in jeopardy, 2009

Written by  Chris Chapman and Preti Taneja

LONDON (Reuters) - Refugees from Iraq's minorities face insecurity and risk losing their religious and cultural identity as they seek refuge in neighboring countries and Western Europe, a minority rights group said on Thursday.

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The United Nations refugee agency estimates that around 1.9 million people have fled Iraq, which was almost torn apart by sectarian killing in the years following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Violence there has now declined though there are still sporadic bombings.

Minority Rights Group International said a disproportionate number of those who had fled Iraq were from ethnic or religious minorities, including Christians, Circassians, Sabian Mandaeans, Shabaks, Turkmen and Yazidis.

Many undertook dangerous journeys to Europe often only to be met with restrictive asylum policies, discrimination and in some cases forcible return, the group said in a report.

"Some communities like Mandaeans, who number a few thousand globally, stand to lose many of their religious and cultural practices, as they are spread across and within countries. They are at risk of cultural eradication," Carl Soderbergh, Minority Rights Group's director of policy, said in a statement.

"Minorities are leaving Iraq because they are specifically targeted for attack due to their religion and culture, but getting out of the country is no guarantee of their safety and security," Soderbergh said.

And yet he said many European countries were now rejecting asylum applications and returning people to Iraq even though attacks on minorities had increased in some areas.

Sweden, the main European destination for Iraqi refugees, has begun returning to Iraq a number of rejected asylum seekers, including Christians, on the grounds that some parts of Iraq were safe to go back to, the rights group said.

Britain and other European countries had also begun enforced returns of rejected asylum-seekers, it said.

Policies pursued by some countries that granted asylum adversely affected Iraqi minority refugees, the report said.

Dispersal policies which divided refugees of the same nationality had a serious impact on minorities, who needed to remain together as a community to protect their cultural identity and religious practices, the report said.

Around 450,000 Iraqis live in Jordan and about 1.2 million in Syria. A further 2.6 million people are internally displaced in Iraq, according to U.N. refugee agency figures. (Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by)

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