Iraq too unsafe to send refugees home: UN
* NATO launches training academy in Iraq
GENEVA: The United Nations on Tuesday urged countries not to send Iraqi asylum-seekers home, saying Iraq was still too dangerous except in parts of the north.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was concerned that some countries, which it did not identify, might be considering making it harder for Iraqis to claim asylum status and so avoid being sent back.
“Despite the January 2005 elections in Iraq, authorities are not yet able to protect citizens from violent attacks, including those specifically targeting civilians in southern and central Iraq,” the Geneva-based agency said.
“The UNHCR encourages governments to postpone the introduction of measures which are intended to promote or induce the voluntary returns,” it said.
Nevertheless, the UNHCR said it had slightly modified its stance to allow for some voluntary repatriation to three northern governorates - Sulaimaniya, Dohuk and Arbil. These Kurdish-controlled areas had achieved “a certain level of political stability, despite the fragile economy and security,” it said.
But elsewhere the situation showed no improvement and had even deteriorated in many places since the UNHCR issued its last advisory on returns some six months ago.
Thousands of civilians have died over the past year, many in suicide bombings, as violence rages between insurgents and the US-backed Iraqi government.
Between 2003 and 2005, more than 250,000 people returned to Iraq, most of them spontaneously.
NATO academy: NATO inaugurated an officer academy on the outskirts of Baghdad on Tuesday, boosting its share in training Iraqi security forces.
NATO, which was nearly torn apart in 2003 in a row over the US-led war, has no combat role in Iraq. But it agreed last year to support US-led training of Iraqi soldiers with courses aimed at turning out 1,000 senior officers a year.
The 26-member alliance will shift the bulk of its training mission in Baghdad’s heavily fortified international zone to the academy in the suburb of Rustamiya some 20 km (13 miles) south. “The Atlantic alliance is committed to help Iraq on its journey towards a better future,” NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told NATO staff at the centre on an unannounced visit to Iraq.
The United States, which sees training of the Iraqi military as key to its efforts ultimately to hand back security to local Iraqis and wind down its own presence, welcomed the move. reuters