Uncertain Future for Iraqi Refugees

During the tyranny of Saddam Hussein's regime, many Iraqis who fled their country found refuge in the Berlin Republic. In 2003, Iraqis made up 14 percent of all asylum seekers to Germany. Now, with the brutal dictator gone, their fate is up in the air.

As U.S. and British troops work to forge some stability out of the chaos that is present-day Iraq, German officials are watching to see what to do with the tens of thousands of Iraqis currently housed in refugee homes across the country.

After suspending all decisions on Iraqi asylum seekers and halting deportations as war broke out, Germany's Interior Ministry has since kept quiet on the fate of more than 30,000 Iraqi exiles. A ministry spokesperson said that they are waiting for the situation in Iraq to become clearer before formulating a new policy.

That silence has raised concern among asylum advocates like the organization Pro Asyl that the Federal Office for the Recognition of Foreign Refugees (BAFL) could begin deportations before a transitional government is set up to stabilize the country.

"There were comments from the (BAFL) during the war that they were planning to start procedures to repeal decisions that granted Iraqis asylum relatively soon after the end of combat operations," Bernd Mesovic, a Pro Asyl spokesman said. "But we hope that reason will prevail here, since the circumstances are still altogether unclear, and at the moment, the humanitarian situation in the country hardly allows such considerations."

Fear to return

Such hope is shared by Iraqi exile Mohammed Hussein Hashem, who arrived in Germany just six months ago and applied for political asylum. A decision on his application has currently been put on hold, but Hashem fears he would will have to return to a country not much less dangerous than the one he left.

"At the moment there's no government in Iraq. How can a country fare, how can the situation be when there's no government?" asked Hashem, who has spent the past half year sharing a shabby apartment in an asylum seekers home. "That's the one thing. Then everyday life there -- the basic necessities like electricity, water, work and a functioning currency. When life returns to normality and stability, yes, then I can go back. No problem."

Following the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, the German government decided to ship back refugees almost immediately after the conflicts stopped. Officials made the decision too early, said Mesovic, and some were forced to engage in long legal battles with the German authorities to prove they had suffered mental and physical harm during the conflicts and could not yet return.

Mesovic said practice has shown that the problems of refugees are best dealt with by allowing people to go home of their own free will.

Around 11,000 Iraqis have received asylum in Germany, according to Pro Asyl. In order to send them back home, the authorities would have to open procedures to have their right to stay repealed. Some may have become eligible to stay in Germany on the basis of their long presence in the country. But any new or pending Iraqi asylum applications would not be approved, Mesovic said.

Since 1999, more Iraqis have applied for the status in Germany than refugees from any other one country. This year alone, more than 2,000 Iraqis have applied for asylum in Germany, making up over 14 percent of all applicants.

Mahmoud Tawfik, © Deutsche Welle 2003