Iraq Conference: UNHCR convenes humanitarian conference on Iraqis forced from their homes

News Stories, 16 April 2007

© UNHCR/K.Brooks
A woman in northern Iraq prepares food for her family in the garage that has been their home since fleeing the city of Mosul. UNHCR will focus attention on the suffering of Iraq's displaced during a two-day conference in Geneva.

GENEVA, April 16 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday convenes a two-day conference involving more than 60 nations focused on the deepening humanitarian crisis of the nearly 4 million Iraqis who have been displaced by the conflict in their homeland.

"We should not expect this conference to be a miracle medicine, a magic response to the difficult humanitarian crisis that many Iraqis face, whether those who are internally displaced inside Iraq or those refugees who left Iraq for one of the neighbouring countries," said Radhouane Nouicer, director of the Middle East and North Africa bureau of UNHCR.

"But we certainly intend and hope that this conference will contribute to raising the awareness of the world to the humanitarian crisis that faces Iraq and Iraqi refugees as a result of the difficult security situation in their country," he said.

The conference on the humanitarian needs of nearly 4 million refugees and displaced people in Iraq and surrounding countries, chaired by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, has attracted more than 450 participants from governments and international and non-governmental organisations. The world is facing the largest displacement of people in the Middle East since the conflict triggered by the creation of Israel in 1948.

Guterres will be joined in the opening session by UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes; UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Ashraf Qazi; and the Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Angelo Gnaedinger. Participants also will see a video message from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

UNHCR hopes the conference will lead to creation of an international partnership to meet the growing needs of the Iraqi displaced and ensure support for the neighbouring countries that have so far borne most of the burden.

Some 1.9 million Iraqis are now displaced inside their country and up to 2 million others have fled abroad. The greatest number are hosted by Syria, with 1.2 million, and Jordan, with 750,00, but there are also an estimated 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran, 40,000 in Lebanon and 10,000 in Turkey.

Many Iraqis had fled before the fall of the Saddam Hussein government in 2003, but between 2003 and 2005 more than 300,000 Iraqis had returned home. That trend reversed, especially after the bombing of a revered Shiite holy site in Samarra 14 months ago. Since then some 800,000 Iraqis have fled their homes and displacement is continuing at the rate of up to 50,000 people a month.

UNHCR says it is vital to keep the borders to neighbouring countries open for Iraqis who need to flee and for the international community to ensure that Iraqi refugees are treated with respect and receive protection. Support for the Iraqi refugees and their host countries must continue until they feel safe to repatriate. Many Iraqis who had fled have exhausted their own resources and are now in desperate condition.

"The protection of these people from refoulement [forcible return to Iraq], bad treatment or hunger or deprivation these are the objectives of UNHCR," said Nouicer.

UNHCR says the huge number of Iraqi refugees means they cannot be permanently integrated into the host countries. Most will be eventually repatriated but the UN refugee agency wants other countries to provide an increased number of places for the permanent resettlement of Iraqis who are most at risk and will not be able to return home.

Conditions are even worse for Palestinian refugees who have been forced from homes they had inside Iraq becoming refugees again. They have faced continual harassment since the end of the previous government and many are now stranded in desolate camps at the border afraid to remain in Iraq, but barred from entering neighbouring countries which already house millions of Palestinian refugees.

UNHCR acknowledges it is very hard to operate inside Iraq but emphasises that everything possible must be done to stem the displacement of Iraqis from their homes and the further outflow of refugees which could create another long-term refugee problem in the Middle East.

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Resettlement

An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

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UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

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