Iraqi refugees in the Netherlands
Since the beginning of the war, 40,000 Iraqis have fled to the Netherlands. In 2008, the Dutch government said Iraq is safe enough for most Iraqis to return and began reviewing the asylum requests of thousands of Iraqis living in the Netherlands. This year more than 100 Iraqis were deported and more than 1000 face forced repatriation.
The recommendation by the UNHCR is not binding for the Netherlands. However, it will be considered in the ministry’s deliberations, as are reports by human rights and refugee organisations. Every case is reviewed individually, taking into account the Geneva Convention, the European Treaty for Human Rights and EU guidelines.
Stop sending Iraqi refugees back, Iraq is too dangerous, says the United Nations. But the Netherlands keeps sending Iraqis back to Iraq. One of those heading back is Abu Omar: “My wife tells me she would rather hear my voice over the phone from a far away country, than have me close to her in Baghdad and find me dead on the street.”
Abu Omar is 42 years old and living in the Netherlands illegally. He used to be a security guard for president Saddam Hussein, who is a Sunni Muslim just like Mr Omar, and a member of the Baath Party.
When the sheikh of the Sunni Albatawi clan was murdered in 2007 with his sons by Shiite militias and Mr Omar started receiving death threats, he fled to the Netherlands. After three years, Abu Omar’s request for asylum was rejected and he was told to prepare to return to his country of birth. Mr Omar has mixed feelings about the prospect of returning to Iraq:
“Of course, any married man wants to return to his family. I have been away for three years and that has certainly not been easy. I am not a young adventurer who has left his children for a better life or to have fun here. I fled because my life was in danger in Iraq and that danger has not gone away.”
Anything but safe
Abu Omar’s wife stayed behind in Baghdad with the children. In recent years, his family has not been safe either. Their 15-year-old son was kidnapped by a Shiite militia and released after the payment of a high ransom. Mr Omar tells Radio Netherlands Worldwide that he is high on a death list in Iraq. He expects he will be murdered if he returns.
Daniel Endres is a UNHCR representative in Iraq, the United Nations refugee organisation. Mr Endres confirms that the situation in Iraq is anything but safe:
“On average there are a thousand incidents of violence per month, that’s 30 a day. They include rocket attacks and bombs, not just in Baghdad but mainly in central Iraq. Almost every Iraqi is affected because the violence takes place almost everywhere. I can not guarantee the safety of people who return.”
Not just Sunnis
It is not just Sunnis like Abu Omar who say they are in danger if they return. Thirty-four-year-old Shiite Ahmed Abdulbaki Hamid used to run a successful barber shop in Basra, in southern Iraq. During the war, British service men visited his shop for a haircut. When he swept up their Western locks afterwards, he was often visited by religious Shiite groups.
“Why did he cut the hair of the occupiers?”, “Why did he shave their beards?” After many threats, there was an arson attack on the shop. But it didn’t stop there. His family was intimidated on the street outside their house. He and his family were told repeatedly Ahmed had to die. So he decided to flee.
After spending 22,000 dollars to escape, he arrived as a refugee in the Netherlands and was granted five years asylum. But now his status is being reviewed and he could be sent back to Iraq. Ahmed says his life is still in danger in Iraq.
“I think it is strange. I have been here for such a long time. I had to learn the language and assimilate. I have worked here and saved money to start a barber shop. There is nothing for me in Iraq anymore, I was building my future here and now I have to leave again.”
No stopping now
The Dutch government says it is not planning to stop deporting Iraqis for the time being, although the Foreign Ministry is going to compile a report on the security situation in Iraq soon. The Dutch government says it will review deportations if new information shows that Iraq is really as dangerous as the UNHCR says it is. Abu Omar and Ahmed will see what happens.