Arab League launches Iraqi refugee fund-raising and awareness campaign
10 January 2008
CAIRO - The League of Arab States, in partnership with the UN refugee agency and other international organisations, is launching on Friday a major fund-raising and public awareness campaign called 'Arabs Hand-in-Hand with Iraqis' aimed at helping displaced Iraqis in neighbouring countries.
"'Arabs Hand-in-Hand with Iraqis' is first and foremost a show of support and solidarity to displaced Iraqis. But, we certainly hope and count on the generosity of Arabs to lend a supporting hand to the most vulnerable of Iraqis in neighbouring countries," said Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the Cairo-based League of Arab States.
UNHCR is helping provide protection and assistance for Iraqi refugees including education and health care, food aid and direct financial support to the most vulnerable families. But more needs to be done.
"The Iraqi people have suffered extreme hardship. Women, children, entire families have witnessed terrible violence and despair. They have left behind families, homes, belongings, and memories - their entire lives," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a video message to support the campaign.
"I appeal to you to support your Iraqi brothers and sisters.... Your voice and helping hand can make a profound difference," Guterres added.
The campaign will be launched on Friday with major coverage on Arab satellite television channels including Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and the Egyptian Satellite Channel as well as more than a dozen different channels in the Arab world. The aim is to raise awareness of the refugees' plight through advertising, feature stories, documentaries, refugee testimonials and call for donations.
Arab celebrities, led by popular Arab Iraqi musician Naseer Shamma who is spearheading the campaign, have joined forces and recorded video messages to raise awareness about the crisis facing refugees and to appeal to fellow citizens to donate to the fund-raising campaign.
Shamma approached the League in October offering to help after watching a documentary on Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries. "Ever since I saw this film, I have not been able to sleep well knowing that many Iraqi families are facing the harsh winter cold, away from home, unable to afford the cost of feeding their children and struggling to make ends need," the musician said.
In September, the League of Arab States in line with a resolution by its member states, established a special account for governments, private sector and individuals to contribute funds in support of displaced Iraqis in neighbouring countries.
In preparation for the campaign, Shamma visited UNHCR's operation in Syria where he met some of the estimated 1.4 million Iraqi refugees in the country.
"I did not know before today that there are many layers [of Iraqi refugees] under the poverty line. UNHCR has done its share but it is time now for the Arab people to do their share and support Iraqi refugees," the virtuoso oud player told a press conference held at the Arab League to announce the beginning of the fund-raising campaign.
The UN refugee agency estimates more than 2.2 million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq, while over two million refugees have fled to other countries. The majority of the refugees are in Syria and Jordan, living in urban areas such as Damascus and Amman. Many of them are running out of money and finding it increasingly difficult to get by. In addition to direct assistance to some of the most vulnerable refugees, UNHCR is supporting efforts by governments in the region which are struggling to cope with the huge numbers of Iraqis who have strained local resources and infrastructure, including schools and health systems.