01/09/2007, 00.00
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UN: million more needed for Iraqi refugees

The supplementary funds requested by UNHCR are earmarked for projects for internally displaced people (1.7 million) and refugees in neighbouring countries (2 million). But the problem is more widespread than that and seriously affects Europe and the United States too.

New York (AsiaNews) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for another 60 million dollars for aid for Iraqi refugees whose numbers have been swelling since the beginning of the war. It is estimated that there are around 1.7 million internally displaced people while two million people have already fled to other countries in the region, especially Syria and Jordan and also Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey. The sum requested will top up one billion dollars already allocated by the UN agency for 2007. However, as denounced recently by AsiaNews, the tragedy of these people in flight is not limited to the Middle East – it assumes ever more serious proportions in western countries too, especially in Europe and the US.


Funds will cover UNHCR programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as internally displaced people within Iraq itself. UNHCR said there could be as many as 2.7 million people displaced within Iraq. Its statistics also reveal that 12% of refugees fled after the 2003 war while others fled even before the conflict started.


The request for extra funds indicates a review of the UN project for displaced people in Iraq. Previously UNHCR was concentrating on refugee return and integration, going by the assumption that stability in Iraq was increasing. But the escalation of violence in the country is leading to an increase in internal and external displacement. The current flow of people is the largest long-term flux in the Middle East since the time when a Palestinian exodus followed the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Currently one out of every eight Iraqis is displaced.


The appeal notes that most of the international aid will be necessary to ensure that neighbouring states keep their borders open to asylum seekers. In 2006 alone, UNHCR estimated that nearly 500,000 Iraqis fled to other areas inside the country and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. Estimates of Iraqis displaced in neighbouring states include from 500,000 to 1 million in Syria; up to 700,000 in Jordan; up to 80,000 in Egypt; and up to 40,000 in Lebanon. Turkey has an unknown number of Iraqis.


AsiaNews has already denounced the tragedy of this people on the move and has interviewed several people close to the Iraqi Christian community abroad. They have called on agencies and the international community to be more committed to alleviating this underreported tragedy. But the problem is not restricted to the Middle East alone: it also deeply affects Europe and the United States that are ever less willing to grant asylum to increasingly desperate Iraqi refugees.

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