According to the Refugee Convention (1951) a refugee is defined as a person who has been forced to leave their country and is unable or unwilling to return due to fear of being persecuted on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
Persecution is understood to include serious breaches of human rights, threats to life or freedom and discrimination on social, political, or economic grounds.
The Refugee Convention
The rights of refugees are protected under an International Law, mainly by the international treaty called the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (or the Refugee Convention). At first, it was related only to European refugees as a result of World War II, but then the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees was introduced and made it applicable to refugees worldwide.
Currently 148 States Parties have ratified the Convention and the Protocol, which means they are a party to the treaty and legally bound by the provisions. Even though there is not a special international court that can enforce the Refugee Convention, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) can monitor whether states abide by the Convention and can work with governments to increase their adherence to their obligations.
What rights do refugees have?
International Human Rights Law protection all individuals and affords them rights equally. Refugees are providing special protection under international law given that their own country has failed to protect them. The Refugee convention provides for a number of rights as soon as they cross a border into the country of asylum.
An important right to note is the right not to be sent back to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened (i.e., the principle of non-refoulement) (article 33). This means that countries of asylum are legally obligated to allow refugees to remain as long as it can be proved that they would be at risk of death, losing their freedom or serious harm if they were returned to their country of origin.
Other rights include:
- The right to non-discrimination (article 3)
- The right to work (article 17)
- Freedom of religion (article 4),
- The right to housing (article 21),
- The right to not be penalized for illegal entry (article 31)
- The right not to be expelled from a country unless the refugee poses a threat to national security or public order (article 32)
For a full list of rights see the Refugee Convention.
It should be noted that according to Article 2 of the Refugee Convention refugees must abide by the law in the country that grants them protection.
Refugees as a vulnerable group
Refugees are considered one of the most vulnerable groups in the world. They have fled war or conflict, often with just the clothes on their backs, many leaving behind homes destroyed or damaged by war, jobs, important ID documents, family members and whole communities. Only 1% (according to UNHCR) make it to their tertiary or final destinations and most are stranded in their secondary countries next to their home nation with over 80% of refugees worldwide living too low to middle income countries and many residing in camps and informal settlements(according to UNHCR website)
How many refugees are there around the world?
Many people are forced to flee their country and the numbers are constantly increasing.
The video of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shows the rates of displacement in the world.
At least 79.5 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes, including about 26 million refugees, nearly half of whom are under the age of 18. There are also millions of stateless people who have been denied citizenship and basic rights such as education, health care, work, and freedom of movement. At a time, one out of every hundred people in the world was forcibly displaced as a result of conflict or persecution.
In Iraq, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees stated that the number of Syrian refugees in Iraq has increased to about 250,000 people, and the Commission stated that Covid-19 epidemic has negatively affected livelihoods, making them unable to provide the basic needs for a decent life.
Refugees in Iraq
There are a large number of refugees in Iraq. The majority are Syrians as a result of the recent conflict in Syria.
Syrian refugees still suffer from problems of education, health, and a decent standard of living in camps and cities Syrian refugees in Iraq and neighboring countries lack the most basic necessities to continue life inside the camps, and the conditions of these refugees are worsening due to the cold and hot weather, as well as language barriers and the difficulty of accessing employment opportunities. Just as their educational path may be interrupted or inaccessible, their ability to engage in social life and advocate effectively for their causes may be diminished.
In this video, there are stories about Syrian refugees living in the Kurdistan region of Iraq They talk about the difficulty of living as a refugee and the difficulty of returning to their country of origin.
Residence in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq
Asylum seekers and refugees can reside and travel in the Kurdistan region of Iraq by taking permission from the Directorate of Residence. However, they will not be able to travel outside the region to the governorates of central and southern Iraq and trying to travel outside the region without obtaining an appropriate residence permit may expose refugees to risks of arrest and detention, and possible deportation from Iraq.
Syrian refugees who arrived in the region without an entry visa, can obtain a residence permit within the region if they provide the following:
- Certificate of asylum seeker from the High Commissioner for Refugees (valid)
- Syrian ID
They can obtain the residence permit by contacting the Directorate of Residence attached to the UNHCR registration center.
What documents do I need to obtain residency within the Kurdistan Region?
Documents that Syrians need to obtain a residence permit in the Residence and Security Offices (Asayish):
1- A valid registration certificate of the Commission.
2- Syrian identity proof documents, including the personal card (identity), family card (family book), family registration statement, or individual civil registration statement (civil registration output).
3- Children need a birth certificate, proof of birth certificate or family book.
4- A residence confirmation letter from the community leader “Mukhtar” of the area where the current residence is located, provided that it is certified by the mayor’s office or security office (Asayish).
5- The application is then referred by the Residency Department to the Central Public Health Laboratory in Erbil for a blood test. The cost of the test should be around 31,500 IQD.
6- Then, the administration issues a residence permit card that is renewable for a period of one year upon submitting the required documents, blood test results and security clearance.
For accurate details regarding residency in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, you can enter the website of the High Commission for Refugees from Here
How can I register myself and my family members as asylum seekers?
All refugees and asylum seekers in Iraq must register with UNHCR and obtain a certificate of registration with UNHCR.
To get the exact steps and information you can visit their website by clicking Here
What is resettlement?
Resettlement is the process of selecting and transferring refugees from a country of asylum to another country that has agreed to accept them as refugees and granted them refuge and later permanent residence. This status allows resettled refugees and their families access to rights similar to those enjoyed by nationals of those countries. Resettlement also provides an opportunity for refugees to get the citizenship of the resettlement country.
How can I apply for a resettlement?
Resettlement is not a right, and UNHCR is not obligated to refer the application for resettlement purposes. Only a very small percentage of asylum seekers are considered most at risk to proceed with their applications in the resettlement procedure. For more information and details on how to apply for resettlement, what are the selection criteria and other details, click Here.
If you think you are at risk and need help to apply for settlement, click here.
Also, you can send a text message contains the word (HELP or help) from your phone to the number 80069999.
All calls are confidential and free of charge.
Or sending a message that includes your phone number and the word “help” to the Facebook page "IICinfo". The center's staff will contact you as soon as possible. Please do not include any information about the reason for calling in messages.
Are there humanitarian services provided to refugees inside Iraq?
UNHCR provides many services to refugees inside Iraq. You can view these available services by clicking on them:
1- Legal Advice.
Or you can find any humanitarian services according to your location in Iraq, through our service mapping that you can find in the upper right corner as a “Find Help” tab.
I have been scammed while seeking NGO services; how do I report it?
All provided humanitarian assistance is free of charge, in the event that you pay any amount of money to anyone, this will not make you eligible for assistance, you are being defrauded if you are asked to pay money for a service from UNHCR or its partners, or other organizations and entities.
In order to report fraud by members of your community, NGO staff, or others who do not have a contractual relationship with UNHCR, contact this email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information or to submit a complaint or feedback about services provided by UNHCR, you can contact the Iraq Information Centre (IIC) on the Free Number 80069999 All calls will be confidential and free of charge.
For more information, you can visit the UN refugee Agency (UNHCR) website from Here.