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World Refugee Day: IFEX Members Honour Journalists in Exile

28 June 2008 at 14:56 | 1273 views

Iraqi journalist Jumana al-Ubaidi decided she could no longer work in her
country. The breaking point was her kidnapping last October by insurgents
who killed her driver and tortured her in captivity. Two weeks later she
was freed - but only after paying a ransom and vowing to stop working for
the "occupier".

Al-Ubaidi is one of a record number of journalists forced into exile in the
past 12 months, says the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). CPJ and
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) marked this year’s World Refugee Day on 20
June by paying tribute to journalists in exile.

According to a new CPJ report, in the last year at least 82 journalists
have left their native countries under threat or harassment - about double
the average that CPJ has recorded since its annual survey began in 2001.
More than half of the journalists came from just two countries, Iraq and
Somalia, the deadliest countries for the press last year. Many refugee
journalists lack professional opportunities, says CPJ; not even a third of
those in exile since 2001 have found work in the media.

When al-Ubaidi was released, she and her mother made their way to a
neighbouring country, and for $20,000 were smuggled into Western Europe.
"We spent eight days driving in a big truck without enough food or water.
The only time we were allowed to get out was when we needed to use the
bathroom," she told CPJ. She now lives in a refugee camp awaiting a
government decision on her asylum request.

Of an estimated two million Iraqi refugees, only a small portion have been
permanently resettled outside the region, says the U.S.-based group Human
Rights First - and a tiny few in the United States, despite a government
promise to process more refugee applications from Iraq. Sweden, though, has
been a haven for more than 40,000 Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers.

The exodus of reporters from Iraq and Somalia has thinned the reporting
ranks in two important conflict zones. Kidnappings and death threats drove
out at least 22 Iraqi journalists in the last 12 months, CPJ found.

The 21 cases of Somali journalists in exile represent "a journalist
community from an entire country on the run," Paul Salopek(photo) from "Chicago
Tribune" told CPJ. The past two years have been especially bloody in
Somalia as a transitional government backed by Ethiopian troops has clashed
with Islamic insurgents.

"When the media are driven out en masse as in Iraq and Somalia, a vital
piece of those societies is being lost," says CPJ.

RSF is calling on the European Union to adopt specific measures to protect
refugee journalists who have defended freedom of expression. Journalists
who have sought refuge in Europe were also invited to meet and talk to the
media at RSF’s headquarters in Paris on World Refugee Day. "The oppressors
will have won if exile reduces these journalists to silence," says RSF.

Read about RSF’s World Refugee Day activities here:
http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=27577

More information about journalists in exile is available from CPJ’s
Journalist Assistance programme: http://www.cpj.org/journo_assist/

CPJ’s survey focuses on journalists who were forced to run because of their
work and who remained in exile for at least three months. To read the full
report, see: http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2008/exiles_08.html

See "The Drum Beat" issue on communication for refugees at:
http://www.comminit.com/en/drum_beat_448.html

For more resources for journalists in exile, see:
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/84436/

Source: IFEX.

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