• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

World Refugee Day: Iraqi musician raises USD 24,000 for UNHCR programmes

News Stories, 18 June 2008

© UNHCR/B.Auger
Iraqi oud player Naseer Shamma during Tuesday's concert.

DAMASCUS, Syria, June 18 (UNHCR) Acclaimed Iraqi oud (lute) player Naseer Shamma has raised more than USD 24,000 for UNHCR's Iraqi refugee programme with a concert at the Damascus Opera House to mark World Refugee Day, which falls on Friday.

The take from Tuesday's concert will be used to provide financial support for 150 of the most vulnerable Iraqi families in Syria over a month-long period.

Sold out within two days of tickets going on sale, the concert featured new music that Shamma created to reflect the situation of Iraq and Iraqi refugees. The programme included musical dialogues with other performers from Iraq; different styles challenging and mingling, with wisps of music evoking Iraq's past.

"I am terrified that we are losing Iraq's culture. Its sense of oneness, its true being," Shamma said. "I am committed to supporting my people as human beings who have a lot of talent to offer and share."

At times Shamma played his six-string oud with one hand only, a technique he developed to remember Iraqis who had their hands cut off in the late 1980s during the autocratic regime of the late President Saddam Hussein.

After playing "Good Morning Baghdad," he called on the audience of 1,300 people to support UNHCR's Iraqi refugee programme, which is facing a funding crisis. "This support is a lifeline. We all need to do our best to gather people, gather friends to support Iraqi refugees."

In the past Shamma's music has been compared by musical critics to a political rally without words. Despite the standing ovation and the warm media reviews, Shamma worried that his work advocating for refugees could affect his music and oud playing.

"I play my music with more conviction, more strongly, but my mind is preoccupied with the problems of my people. I will not stop, but I am challenged with finding the time and space for my practice, my music," said the musician, much of whose work is inspired by his exile.

Shamma fled Iraq in 1993 when a friend warned him that his arrest was imminent. Several years earlier, he spent 170 days in prison followed by 50 days in hospital. He left Iraq the day of the warning and headed to the Jordanian capital of Amman.

Since then, he has only returned to Iraq once he brought a group of doctors to Baghdad in 1997 to help children needing surgery. Shamma says he will only return to Iraq when there is real democracy and no sectarian divisions. "I need freedom for people in Iraq," he said after the concert.

As food and fuel prices rise and their savings dwindle, Iraqi refugees are becoming more impoverished. The worst consequences of this poverty are child labour, homelessness, children not attending school and early marriage. UNHCR's financial assistance programme targets this vulnerable portion of the refugee population currently some 4,000 families receive help.

Since the beginning of 2007, the falling value of the US dollar has led to a USD 6 million dollar loss of support for the UNHCR programme in Syria. There is a funding shortfall of USD 61 million for the entire Iraq operation, covering Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.

By Sybella Wilkes in Damascus, Syria

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Iraq.

Donate to this crisis

CAR Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Central African Republic.

Donate to this crisis

The Global Report and Funding Reports

A comprehensive view of the refugee agency's challenges and achievements worldwide.

Donors

Governments, organisations and individuals who fund UNHCR's activities.

The Global Appeal and Supplementary Appeals

Alerting donors, organizations and individuals to the plight of millions of uprooted people.

WRD 2009 Poster Gallery

WRD 2009 Poster Gallery

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

Saving Diana: A Syrian Refugee With Special NeedsPlay video

Saving Diana: A Syrian Refugee With Special Needs

Ten year old Diana was born in Syria with a severe form of Cerebral Palsy. For nearly a month, she traveled with her mother and brother across deserts and sea in search of safety in Europe.
To Turkey from Kobani, Syria: Ivra's Story Play video

To Turkey from Kobani, Syria: Ivra's Story

As Syrian refugee numbers surpass 4 million, many families and bright young people in camps across the region wonder about their future prospects. Ivra is 13 years old, she had a great life back home in Kobani, Syria. She was a top student who loved sports and reading English literature. One day the conflict reached her school and home and changed her life forever. The fluent English speaker is now one of many refugees who fled to Turkey. She lives in the country's biggest refugee camp.
Thailand: Nader, a saxophonist from Syria - World Refugee Day 2015Play video

Thailand: Nader, a saxophonist from Syria - World Refugee Day 2015

"Music has helped me in everything - morally, financially, even my manners." Nader is a third-generation refugee.