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UNHCR Urges European Countries Not to Deport Iraqis

The United Nations refugee agency is appealing to four European countries not to forcibly deport Iraqi asylum seekers to Iraq where their lives could be in danger. The agency says four countries - the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the U.K. - are planning to send Iraqi citizens to Baghdad this week.

The U.N. refugee agency says it has not received confirmed information regarding the number and profile of the Iraqis slated for deportation. Agency officials also say they do not know whether some have requested protection.

However, UNHCR spokeswoman, Melissa Fleming says the organization remains firm in its opinion that it is not safe to send refugees back to certain parts of Iraq.

She says it is too dangerous to return asylum seekers to Baghdad, Diyala, Ninewa and Salah-al-Din, as well as Kirkuk province. She says Iraqis who originate from these areas are entitled to international protection.

And, she notes all four countries planning to deport the refugees are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention. This obliges them to protect those fleeing from war and persecution.

"Our position reflects the volatile security situation and the high level of prevailing violence, security incidents, and human rights violations taking place in these parts of Iraq," Fleming said. "UNHCR considers that serious - including indiscriminate - threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from violence or events seriously disturbing public order are valid reasons for international protection."

Fleming says the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the U.K. individually have decided to deport the Iraqi asylum seekers. However, she says the four countries are planning a coordinated return this week.

"This is not the first instance," Fleming said. "I think what we have seen are some returns, particularly from the U.K. in the past to Baghdad. But, as far as I am aware, it is the first where four countries have come together and said they were going to do it collectively."

Fleming says the refugee agency is concerned that forced returns from Europe could send a bad signal to other host countries, particularly those neighboring Iraq.

The United Nations estimates that together Syria and Jordan are hosting more than two million Iraqi refugees.