Germany opens door to new wave of Iraqi refugees

BERLIN, (AFP) – Four hundred Iraqi refugees from camps in Syria and Jordan will arrive in Germany in March at the start of a European resettlement programme, human rights groups said Wednesday.

The European Union decided in November to take in 10,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from war-torn Iraq. Germany is set to receive 2,500.

This first group of 400, including Christians and members of other religious minorities, will initially be housed in northern Germany, where they will be issued a three-year, extendable, residency permit.

“The arrival of the first people represents a success on our behalf, but we need to bear in mind that this is only the first phase of a long process,” Julia Duchrow, from Amnesty International, told reporters.

Guenter Burkhardt from the organisation Pro Asylum said the priority was to enable a “successful integration” of the group, adding that refugees are often forced to live on the periphery of society.

The 400 people were selected by means of criteria established by the German government and the EU.

Successsful asylum applicants had to have a clean criminal record and not have been members of Saddam Hussein’s former Baath party, Duchrow said.

Single mothers, post-traumatic stress sufferers and those with family ties to Germany also had a greater chance of a successful application, according to the EU criteria.

Britain, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden are also involved in the scheme.

Iraq was torn by insurgency and sectarian strife after US-led forces invaded in March 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein. About two million Iraqi refugees currently live in Jordan and Syria.