The Refugee Council has been advised by the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) that changes have been made to the handling of asylum claims from Iraqi nationals.
The period of Exceptional Leave to Remain (ELR) of four years which is normally granted has been reduced to 6 months for Iraqis. The justification which the Immigration Nationality Directorate gives for this is the “uncertain situation surrounding Iraq”. The new policy will be kept under review, according to IND.
A change has also been made to the way in which asylum applications from Iraqi nationals from the Kurdish Autonomous Zone (KAZ) are made. According to the advice from IND, “In appropriate cases, [the Home Office] will be considering the possibility of internal relocation within the KAZ where an applicant can show they have a well-founded fear in their home area….At the present time, we will not be applying the option of internal relocation to the KAZ for applicants from Government controlled Iraq.”
Both changes took effect from 20th February 2003.
The Home Office normally grants a period of four years’ Exceptional Leave to Remain in recognition that it takes time for people to rebuild their lives. Commenting on this new measure, Richard Williams, head of International Protection Policy at the Refugee Council, said, “This is targeted at people whom the Government recognises as being in need of our protection: people who desperately need stability in order to rebuild their lives. To use the prospect of war in Iraq as a justification for depriving people of that security is perverse and mean-spirited.”
Reflecting circumstances in Iraq, applications from Iraqi nationals have been proportionately high in recent times. From January to September last year, there were 10,560 applications made in the UK by Iraqis. During the same period, 5,431 Iraqi asylum applicants were granted Exceptional Leave to Remain.
Most displaced and exiled people from Iraq are still in the Middle East – numbers which are likely to increase if the threat of war against Iraq is realised. In 1991, during the Gulf War, around 2.5 million refugees fled from Iraq, mainly to neighbouring countries. There are currently between 700,000 and 1 million people who are internally displaced in Iraq, the majority of whom are women and children.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s report, Saddam Hussein: crimes and human rights abuses, a report on the human cost of Saddam’s policies concludes that, “It is no wonder that, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2001, Iraqis have become the second largest group of refugees in the world”.