Iraqi refugees in Jordan, Lebanon & Syria

Source: ICMC Europe, Welcome to Europe! A comprehensive guide to resettlement, 2013

The first Iraqi refugees arrived in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the three countries have again become major destinations for Iraqi refugees.

The number of Iraqi refugees registered in Jordan has remained relatively stable, with a current population of 20,286 at 1 January 2014. Numbers in Lebanon have decreased to a current total of 4,944. In both countries, Syrian refugees fleeing conflict in their own country currently outnumber Iraqi refugee populations.

Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraqi refugees in Syria were offered protection by the Assad government. In the context of the current conflict in Syria many view Iraqi refugee populations as potential supporters of the Assad regime, and they have therefore been subject to targeted attacks and discrimination. The civil war and the particular insecurity of the Iraqi population in Syria has led many Iraqi refugees to be ‘twice displaced’ - from Iraq to Syria, and then from Syria to neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. Although less than 60,000 refugees returned to Iraq during the last few months of 2012, continued instability in Iraq and the loss of land, houses and other assets means voluntary repatriation is not a viable option for the majority. Additionally, many refugees fear religious or ethnic persecution if they return.

Neither Jordan, Lebanon nor Syria are signatories to the 1951 Convention. UNHCR is responsible for conducting RSD in all three countries. Both the Jordanian and Lebanese governments have signed Memoranda of Understanding with UNHCR which outline UNHCR’s responsibility to find durable solutions for recognised refugees within limited periods of time.

In Jordan, refugees are considered to be ‘guests’, and subsequently have no access to employment or long-term settlement. Legally, both refugees and all other foreigners are at risk of deportation after a period of 6 months residency in the country. The 2003 Memorandum of Understanding between UNHCR and the Lebanese government stipulates that all refugees should be resettled within 9 months of their recognition as refugees by UNHCR. Many Iraqi refugees in Jordan have been displaced for as long as five years. The current large-scale influx of Syrian refugees which Jordan and Lebanon are hosting (491,365 and 572,224 respectively) is presenting a tremendous burden on the host countries, and due to these large numbers, opportunities for local integration are not available.

Resettlement is therefore the only viable solution for the vast majority of refugees. In Lebanon, resettlement has been used strategically to establish and maintain a temporary protection regime for non-resettled refugees remaining in the country. There is a continuous need to respond to urgent protection cases that do not meet criteria applied by larger resettlement countries. Insecurity in Syria led all major resettlement countries to suspend their programmes during 2011-12, and the accessibility of the country and refugee populations within it remain serious concerns for 2013 and 2014. Alternative processing through video conferencing tools is still ongoing as well as evacuations to the ETCs.

UNHCR has projected a total resettlement need among Iraqi refugees in the three countries of 20,050 persons - 1,000 in Jordan, 3,515 in Lebanon and 12,800 in Syria. While UNHCR Jordan is expected to submit 1,900 Iraqis for resettlement in 2013, the influx of Syrian refugees and the ongoing arrivals of Iraqi refugees fleeing from Syria severely impact on resettlement operations.

Photo: Members of an Iraqi family referred for resettlement arrive in their new home in Europe. © UNHCR / R. Brunnert / 12 May 2009