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UNHCR reports first refugees from Iraq

[JURIST] The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights [official website] reported Monday that the first small group (14) of refugees from Iraq arrived in Syria over the weekend. No other refugee arrivals in other countries bordering Iraq have as yet been reported.

The principal international legal instruments governing refugees are the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees [text] and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees [text]. The legal position of war-displaced refugees fleeing to third-party states is, however, complicated by the narrow definition of the "refugee" in the leading instruments, which is limited to persons having "a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion" and therefore seems to contemplate individuals rather than masses (internally-displaced war refugee groups have traditionally come under the Geneva Convention of the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War [text]). For further analysis see Flight in Times of War [PDF], a paper by Walter Kalin, Professor of International and Constitutional Law at the University of Bern (Switzerland). For background on potential movements of war-displaced refugees within and outside of Iraq and the legal responsibilities of various parties to them, see the Human Rights Watch February 2003 briefing paper Iraqi Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Displaced Persons: Current Conditions and Concerns in the Event of War [PDF].

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