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UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - Regional Overview: The Middle East

UNHCR Fundraising Reports, 1 December 1998


The scope of UNHCR's activities in the Middle East was limited before the 1991 Gulf crisis. 1991 may thus be seen as a watershed for UNHCR in this region. The Gulf War and its aftermath led to the launching of UNHCR assistance programmes in Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, the Syrian Arab Republic and Saudi Arabia.

The refugees

The refugee situation in the Middle East remains largely unchanged from past years. There are some 147,000 refugees in the region including 104,000 refugees in Iraq, 22,700 in the Syrian Arab Republic, 6,400 in Egypt and some 5,800 in Saudi Arabia. Of these, UNHCR assists some 40,600 Iraqi refugees, 34,200 Iranians, 4,800 Somalis and 1,900 Sudanese in the region. There are also some 2.5 million Palestinian refugees living in the region. Palestinian refugees outside of the UNRWA's (United Nations Relief and Work Agency) area of operation receive legal assistance from UNHCR. UNRWA operates in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic.

Protection and care and maintenance

UNHCR provides protection and care and maintenance to refugees in both urban and camp settings in the Middle East. The agency assists some 15,400 Iranian refugees in Al-Tash Camp in Iraq and some 1,400 Iraqi Refugees in El-Hol Camp in the Syrian Arab Republic. Some 5,500 Iraqi refugees in Rafha Camp in Saudi Arabia receive UNHCR protection assistance, but care and maintenance is provided by the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. UNHCR also provides assistance to some 10,800 refugees of Turkish origin in Iraq. Some 6,800 of these refugees shelter in Makhmour Camp in the Government-controlled region, while another 4,000 persons live in local settlements in the north of Iraq.

Temporary stay pending solution

Because employment possibilities for refugees in the region are severely limited, UNHCR's financial assistance to refugees is seen as a basic requirement for regional Governments to grant temporary stays for refugees pending a durable solution. None of the countries in the Middle East region (except Egypt) has signed the 1951 Convention and all are increasingly burdened by internal economic difficulties which limit their ability to provide for refugee populations.

Local integration is not an option for the overwhelming majority of refugees in the Middle East since most of the countries have not signed the Refugee Convention and have no laws which legalize the status of asylum-seekers and UNHCR-recognized refugees. Third-country resettlement or eventual repatriation are the only durable solutions available for large groups of refugees. During 1997, UNHCR helped resettle some 9,400 refugees from countries in the Middle East. Apart from some individual refugees who repatriated, UNHCR's largest repatriation programme in the Middle East is the voluntary return of Iraqi refugees from the Islamic Republic of Iran to the north of Iraq. During 1997, UNHCR assisted 4,341 Iraqi Kurds who repatriated from the Islamic Republic of Iran to northern Iraq and another 4,000 spontaneous returnees. Returnees were given a shelter package and either livestock or carpentry tools or a farming set; and the World Food Programme (WFP) provided them with a two-month food ration upon their return.

Women and children

UNHCR conducts special activities for women and children in the Middle East. In Egypt, for example, there are projects in culturally and ethically sensitive reproductive health, vocational training and income-generation for refugee women. Guidelines for the protection of refugee women are disseminated among groups dealing with refugee issues and a network for advocating refugee women's rights is gradually building. In Kuwait, UNHCR promotes equal access to education for male and female children. UNHCR meets school costs for refugees in need, and assistance is provided for refugee students at primary, secondary and vocational schools.

Regional consultations

In 1996, UNHCR launched the Consultations on Refugees and Displaced Populations in Central Asia, South-West Asia and the Middle East (known as the CASWAME Consultations). Representatives from the Middle East, Central and South Asia participated in the discussions which led to the adoption of a number of constructive recommendations to deal with displacement issues. The conclusions are implemented as part of UNHCR's objectives in the region.

Budget US$

The budget does not include costs at Headquaters.

CountryGeneral ProgrammesSpecial ProgrammesTotal
Saudi Arabia1,148,2001,148,200
The Syrian Arab Republic2,446,8002,446,800
Regional Projects179,80079,800



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UNHCR Goodwill Envoy Khaled Hosseini visited Afghanistan in early September and saw first-hand one of the UN refugee agency's largest and most complex operations. During a 10-day trip, the best-selling author visited UNHCR projects and met returnees in the northern provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, Balkh, Parwan and Kabul. Hosseini, a former Afghan refugee now settled in the United States, noted that it would take time and effort for Afghanistan to provide returnees with adequate infrastructure and services. He urged the international community to remain committed to Afghanistan and to give the country time. Hosseini could not visit the south and parts of the east, where insecurity is impacting on the ability of UNHCR to assess needs and provide assistance to those who need it the most. Since 2003, UNHCR has helped more than 4 million refugees return to Afghanistan. This year, some 300,000 Afghan refugees have returned from Pakistan. More than 900,000 remain in Iran and 2 million in Pakistan.

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Afghanistan: An Uncertain Future

For over a quarter of a century, Afghanistan has been devastated by conflict and civil strife, with some 8 million people uprooted internally and in neighbouring countries. The overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 resulted in one of the largest and most successful return operations in history.

Seven years on, more than 5 million Afghan refugees have returned - increasing Afghanistan's population by an estimated 20 percent.The large majority have gone back to their areas of origin. However, some recent returnees are facing more difficulties as the country's absorption capacity reaches its limits in some areas. Last year, some Afghans returned before they were ready or able to successfully reintegrate due to the closure of refugee villages as well as the deteriorating conditions in Pakistan. In consequence, 30,000 Afghan refugees returned to further displacement in their homeland, unable to return to their villages due to conflict, lack of land, shelter materials, basic services and job opportunities. These challenges have been compounded elsewhere across the country by food insecurity and severe drought.

UNHCR and the Afghan Foreign Ministry highlighted the requirements for sustainable refugee return and reintegration at an international conference in Kabul in November 2008. The donor community welcomed the inclusion of refugee reintegration within the government's five-year national development strategy and the emphasis on land, shelter, water, sanitation, education, health care and livelihoods. It is anticipated that repatriation and reintegration will become more challenging in future.

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