The U.N. refugee agency says it is revising its guidelines for Iraqi asylum claims because of the improved security situation in Iraq, particularly in the southern governorates and Al-Anbar governorate.   This is the first time since the end of 2007 that the UNHCR says it has been able to revise its guidelines on eligibility.

The U.N. refugee agency says North, Central and Southern Iraq are showing different degrees of improved security.  And, that is affecting the way in which asylum claims should be treated.

Before the end of 2007, because of the dangers, the UNHCR advised that all Iraqis from central and southern governorates be considered as refugees.  Exceptions included people suspected of war crimes.
The UNHCR says with the improved situation, it believes asylum claims originating from Al-Anbar and the southern governorates should be assessed on an individual basis.  However, the agency says favorable consideration should still be given to people identified as at risk.

They include members of religious and ethnic minorities, public officials, Iraqis seen as part of opposing armed groups or political factions and media workers.

U.N. refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says there is ongoing violence in most of the central governorates including Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salah Al-Din.  He says UNHCR believes all asylum-seekers from these areas continue to need international protection and should not be sent back there.

"For asylum-seekers in the three Northern Governorates of Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, UNHCR is maintaining its previous position that claims should be individually assessed," said Ron Redmond. "We, however, advise foreign governments not to forcibly return people to the three Northern Governorates who did not originate there.  It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have sought refuge in neighboring countries, mainly Syria and Jordan but also in Lebanon, Egypt and further afield."  

Last year, the UNHCR reports more than 40,000 asylum applications were made by Iraqis in industrialized countries around the world.  

The agency says the improvement of the situation in Iraq is a good sign.  But, it adds it is premature to send asylum seekers back to their country.  

UNHCR spokesman Redmond says the lessening violence does not yet signal enough fundamental changes to promote or encourage massive returns to Iraq.   He says some Iraqis might still be in need of asylum.  Therefore, claims should be assessed on an individual basis.