GENEVA The United Nations praised Germany on Friday for taking in 122 vulnerable Iraqi refugees, and urged other European countries to follow suit.
Flown to Hanover from Syria on Thursday, they are the first refugees to move to Germany under a resettlement programme since Vietnamese boat people in the early 1980s, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.
"Germany is providing a very positive example which we hope will inspire other European countries to consider resettling Iraqi refugees during 2009," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva.
Each Iraqi family faced persecution in their homeland, including a man who survived a kidnapping and a young mother whose husband was abducted and never heard from again, he said.
The German government has offered to take in 2,500 Iraqis from Syria and Jordan following a decision by the European Union to resettle up to 10,000 Iraqis in the bloc in 2009, UNHCR said.
Germany is giving priority to persecuted minorities, people with specific medical needs and female-headed households with family already in the country, according to the agency.
An estimated 60,000 vulnerable Iraqi refugees who have fled fighting and persecution need to find new homes, with the majority now in Syria and Jordan, it said.
Some 17,770 Iraqi refugees were resettled to third countries last year, Redmond said. Six percent went to European countries.
"The United States has taken the majority," he said. "It is hoped a much larger number will be accepted and resettled globally this year."
Britain, Finland, France, the Netherlands and Sweden are also considering Iraqis put forward by UNHCR for resettlement.
The United States -- after criticism from Europe and the UNHCR for not resettling many Iraqis after its 2003 invasion -- has taken in 14,860 since early 2007. They are among 46,255 Iraqis whose cases the UNHCR has submitted to Washington.
The Iraqis eligible for resettlement are currently living in relative safety in Syria and Jordan, Redmond said. "But these are the most vulnerable of cases, they do need to be resettled eventually in our opinion. The sooner the better."
(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)