Reconciling Refugee Protection and Security Concerns in Wartime: The Case of Iraq
As states struggle to strike a balance between the demands of national security and their commitments to the international refugee regime, those displaced by continued turbulence in Iraq may find their rights to protection severely curtailed. Amidst heightened security concerns in the post-9/11 world, this policy brief examines international responses to the Iraqi refugee situation and explores various tools that can effectively allow states to reconcile security efforts with the continued commitment to international protection.
The study maps the context of the war and finds that heightened security concerns have severely restricted access to international protection. While countries such as Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have increasingly cited security concerns as the reason behind their tightened or outright closed borders, policies in the U.S., Australia and the EU have severely restricted access to asylum and third-country resettlement. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, for example, the U.S. temporarily suspended its signature resettlement program altogether. Although states have traditionally seen security and international protection as a zero-sum game, the study finds that a number of tools exist that allow states to effectively strike a balance between the two. Specifically, the study suggests that the strategic and lawful use of exclusion, separation and burden sharing can be effective in ensuring national security while abiding by international commitments to protection.
The brief concludes with a series of policy recommendations, urging states to: maintain open borders; collaborate with agencies such as UNHCR and ICRC on the effective screening of refugee populations that may include combatants, ex-combatants and those having committed violations of international law; where there is sufficient means to believe that an individual may be guilty of grave international crimes, states should ensure that these individuals are excluded from refugee protection and properly tried before a national or international tribunal; identify, disarm and separate combatants from refugee populations; limit the size of refugee camps to the suggested 20,000-person limit advocated by UNHCR; and promote burden-sharing efforts between neighboring states and those outside the region of origin.