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UNHCR signs landmark accord in Syria with international NGO

News Stories, 8 May 2008

© UNHCR/H.Mukhtar
Hussein Ibrahim, country director for IMC, UNHCR Executive Committee Chairman Boudewijn van Eenennaam and Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR's deputy representative in Syria.

DAMASCUS, Syria, May 8 (UNHCR) Boudewijn van Eenennaam, head of the UN refugee agency's governing body, on Thursday attended the signing of a landmark contract between UNHCR and the International Medical Corps (IMC), paving the way for the aid agency to become the first international non-governmental organization (INGO) to work with Iraqi refugees in Syria.

IMC will run three health clinics for refugees in Damascus under the agreement. The Danish Refugee Council and Premier Urgence are also slated to start work in Syria soon in support of UNHCR community services and education programmes.

"This is a very significant step in addressing the increasing needs of this very vulnerable population. We hope that many more international NGOs will be encouraged to assist the Iraqi refugees in the future," said UNHCR Executive Committee Chairman Van Eenennaam.

"I hope the introduction of these INGOs will lead to more funding opportunities for this operation which is facing increasing problems of funding," added the Netherlands diplomat, wrapping up a five-day visit to Syria and Jordan, which together host more than 2 million Iraqi refugees.

To date, international NGOs have not been given permission to work with Iraqi refugees in Syria. A limited number of small local charities have been working with UNHCR over the past few years, but the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is UNHCR's main implementing partner in the country.

IMC will start work at a time when Syrian Arab Red Crescent clinics dedicated to refugee health care are having to cope with rising numbers of Iraqi patients. More than 150,000 refugees have visited the clinics since the beginning of the year, compared to 200,000 for the whole of last year.

Hussein Ibrahim, country director for IMC, anticipates the first clinic will open next Thursday in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, with clinics planned to open later this month in the city's Seyidda Zeinab and Masaken Barzeh areas.

He noted that IMC was "charting new waters working in Syria. We appreciate the trust placed in us by the Syrian government and UNHCR.... This is a very fragile population with complex health needs. We do not underestimate the challenge we are taking on."

Van Eenennaam's visit came at a time when UNHCR operations in the region are facing significant funding problems, with increasing numbers of refugees calling upon the support of the refugee agency as food and fuel prices soar and their savings dwindle.

UNHCR estimates that if no further funding is received soon, its support for refugee health programmes will have to end in August. In Syria, more than 18 percent of the registered population of some 194,000 Iraqi refugees suffer from a serious medical condition. In many cases Iraqis with health problems flee overseas so that they can get health care that is unavailable in Iraq.

During his visit to the region Van Eenennaam met with members of the Jordanian and Syrian governments, visited UNHCR operations and met Iraqi refugees to learn first hand about the situation. He will report his findings to the Executive Committee, or ExCom, upon his return to Geneva.

By Sybella Wilkes in Damascus, Syria

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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

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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