Geneva meet to boost awareness of scale of Iraq tragedy, seek support
GENEVA, February 23 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday said a major conference here in April was aimed at increasing awareness of the humanitarian scale of the Iraq conflict and winning international support for tackling the problems.
Participants at the April 17-18 ministerial-level meeting in Geneva's Palais des Nations would also try to identify more targeted responses to specific problems, UNHCR's chief spokesman, Ron Redmond, told reporters, while adding that it was not specifically a pledging or donor conference.
"The conference will bring together Iraqi authorities and those of neighbouring countries, major refugee-hosting states, major donor countries, resettlement countries, concerned regional governmental organisations, NGOs, UN and non-UN partners and others," Redmond said.
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres sought support for the planned meeting during his recent visit to the Middle East, when he urged greater assistance for countries hosting Iraqis and told refugee leaders that the world was waking up to the plight of those uprooted by Iraq's conflict.
Redmond noted that the conference had three broad objectives, explaining that UNHCR wanted, first, "to sensitise the international community to the humanitarian dimensions of the situation, as well as foreseeable needs for protection and assistance for the millions who have been uprooted."
The second aim of the conference, he said, would be "to seek commitments to address the humanitarian problems, including through more international burden-sharing to ease the strain on the current refugee-hosting states; through financial support or capacity-building; through more funding for IDP [internally displaced people] and refugee protection and assistance programmes; through improving the quality of protection for the uprooted and by providing resettlement opportunities for the most vulnerable."
The meeting would also identify targeted responses to specific problems, including finding lasting solutions for groups most at risk - such as Palestinian refugees in Iraq, Redmond said, adding that UNHCR hoped the conference would boost understanding of the dimensions of the displacement crisis and the needs of those affected.
"The international community needs to focus collectively on a host of humanitarian needs, working together to ease the suffering of millions of refugees and displaced people in the region," he said.
Close to 2 million Iraqis are displaced within Iraq, and about 2 million are outside, mostly in Syria, Jordan and nearby countries. While many of those inside and outside Iraq had fled their country before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing their homes - up to 50,000 a month. An estimated 712,000 have been internally displaced since the bombing on February 22 last year of an important Shia Muslim mosque in the town of Samarra.
The hospitality of nearby host countries is becoming strained. Syria has at least a million Iraqis and Jordan an estimated 750,000. Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and Turkey also have tens of thousands. Security and socio-economic concerns are putting enormous pressure on host countries.
In a separate development, Redmond said UNHCR welcomed the Syrian government's decision to rescind some instructions issued last month on procedures for Iraqis in the country. The instructions had caused anxiety among many of the Iraqis in Syria. "We very much appreciate the government's efforts to clarify the rules and ease those concerns," he said.