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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 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:

More information about journalists in exile is available from CPJ's Journalist Assistance programme:

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:

See "The Drum Beat" issue on communication for refugees at:
For more resources for journalists in exile, see:

(Photo: Three Somali journalists share a meal while holed up at Radio Shabelle offices last fall. For weeks at a time, staffers feared leaving the station. These reporters eventually left the country. Photo courtesy of Radio Shabelle via CPJ)

(24 June 2008)

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