Europe doesn’t want to resettle Iraqi refugees

The resettlement of Iraqi refugees needs to become a greater priority on the European humanitarian agenda.
The resettlement of Iraqi refugees needs to become a greater priority on the European humanitarian agenda. That is what the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and the refugees organization of the United Nations (UNHCR) say. In resettlement programs, countries take in refugees who cannot return to their home country, and don’t have any perspective for safe integration in their first country of refuge. ‘Resettlement is an important additional, not replacing, measure to offer protection to vulnerable groups’, says UNHCR. ‘It offers a durable solution for refugees and it is a concrete form of shared responsibility’.

ECRE and UNHCR want to persuade European countries to sign up for refugee resettlement programs. Today only seven countries have such programs: Denmark, Finland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom. France and the Czech Republic will join this list. ‘In order to relieve some of the pressure on Iraq and the first countries of refuge – Jordan, Syria and Lebanon – it is important that other European member states take a part of the responsibility as well’, says the European-Mediterranean network for human rights organizations, EMHRN. But that’s not what Europe wants. The European ministers of Foreign Affairs decided that it’s time for the Iraqi refugees to return to their homes, provided that their safety can be guaranteed. Furthermore, it’s up to the Iraqi government to protect their refugees in neighboring countries and the internally displaced people.

‘This decision is somewhat of a disappointment’, says Gilles Van Moortel, spokesperson of UNHCR in Brussels. ‘We had expected more support. On the other hand, there was no minister who said ‘no’. We can see now that the member states have a positive attitude towards resettlement in general. A while ago, people didn’t even know what resettlement was, now the concept begins to gain more wide-spread recognition.

In Belgium, the idea of making resettlement part of the migration and asylum policy has been around for a while. In the first orange-blue coalition agreement, resettlement was given a place, and both minister of Foreign Affairs Karel De Gucht (Open VLD) and minister of migration Annemie Turtelboom (Open VLD) support this. But today the political situation is different, especially when it comes to the asylum and migration policy, which caused resettlement to disappear from the forefront. Officially, Belgium is waiting for the point of view of the European Council.

Translation by Sven Heyndrickx

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