London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Deputy Minister of Displacement and Migration, Hamdia Ahmed Najif expressed skepticism over the figures attributed to Iraqi immigrants living outside of their country as referred to by a number of United Nations (UN) organizations and the media pointing out that the ministry does not possess specific or accurate numbers. She added that the alleged figures are speculative rather than a precise census.
Speaking to Asharq Al Awsat yesterday in a phone interview from her office in Baghdad, Najif discussed, “the problems that Iraqi refugees are subjected to in Arab countries, such as residency, health insurance and education for their children.” She revealed, “we have formed a committee that is chaired by our ministry in which other ministries are members; the ministries of foreign affairs, women’s affairs, and human rights. It is a supreme committee created to manage the problems of Iraqis living in Egypt, Jordan and Syria, since the majority of Iraqis live in these countries. We will approach the cabinet to seek approval for this committee that must provide emergency services for nationals residing in these countries.
Najif added, “Some Arab countries grant Iraqis only three-day residencies, their children unable to attend schools, whereas in Egypt, it is only possible to gain hospital admission and receive treatment for astronomical figures. This is why we want the supreme committee to strike agreements with the countries that have a large Iraqi refugee presence so as to grant them temporary residencies, allow their children to resume their education – even if only for one academic year. We are also considering making agreements with hospitals in Egypt to enable them to offer their services to the Iraqis residing there.”
The deputy minister explained that the Iraqi embassies abroad provide services within their capabilities and in accordance with the laws and regulations of the country in question since each country has its own unique set. “As a ministry, our responsibility should be to limit immigration and travel abroad, but today we see the tragic nature of the security situation on a daily basis, where Iraqis are fleeing from death,” she said.
Regarding the exodus from areas within Iraq as a result of sectarian practices, Najaf revealed, “We are very much counting on the new security plan to restore stability in Baghdad so that the displaced families may return to their homes. She pointed out that, according to the new security plan, “Any person who is inhabiting or exercising control over the houses of the displaced or relocated [rightful owners] will be subject to punishment and will be considered a terrorist. This way will ensure that the houses of the displaced will remain empty and not be inhabited by gangs.
She added, “Our ministry has provided and will continue to provide emergency services to Iraqis who are displaced out of their country by reason of sectarian and terrorist practices, but those are limited services. The important thing is to repatriate back to their houses and restore their stability.”
Najaf discussed the problems confronting Palestinians, Syrians and other Arabs living in Iraq saying, “Regarding the Palestinians and the Syrians in the country, they are our responsibility and we provide them with housing and other assistance such free medical treatment and education; those Arabs were treated as first-class citizens.” Regarding the Syrians and Palestinians who are stranded on the Syrian border, Syrian authorities refusing them admission into their land, Najaf explained, “This falls under the UN’s responsibility, and we offer them assistance.”
Najaf denied that the Iraqi government had concluded agreements with the The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide assistance for Iraqis abroad since her ministry’s policy is based on returning the Iraqis back home and not the opposite.