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High Commissioner Guterres wraps up mission to Syria, Iraq and Jordan

Briefing notes

High Commissioner Guterres wraps up mission to Syria, Iraq and Jordan

19 February 2008

Yesterday, Monday, High Commissioner António Guterres wrapped up his weeklong mission to Syria, Jordan and Iraq where he was reviewing UNHCR's operations to support millions of Iraqi refugees and those displaced internally in their own country.

During his mission, Mr. Guterres appealed to the international community for more support to Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan, for more resettlement places in third countries, and for the government of Iraq to be more active in supporting its uprooted people. His overall objective, he said, is to ensure that millions of Iraqis displaced by conflict receive as much protection and assistance as possible. He said the international response remains disproportionate to the scope of the problem.

Over the weekend, Mr. Guterres was in Iraq where he pledged to strengthen UNHCR's presence and offered to work with the government on a preliminary assessment of the conditions required for the eventual return of millions of uprooted Iraqis.

The proposed joint assessment would analyze the conditions needed to be in place for the voluntary, successful and sustainable return of refugees in safety and dignity. In addition to safety and security, Guterres said basic preconditions for the return of refugees include access to and the availability of basic services, and restitution or compensation for lost property. UNHCR does not consider the conditions are currently suitable for large-scale return.

The UN refugee agency plans to boost its Baghdad-based staff from two to five internationals. We currently work throughout the country, with activities often managed from Amman, Jordan. UNHCR and other UN agencies have had a limited international presence in the Iraqi capital since the deadly bombing of UN headquarters there in August 2003.

In Iraq, Guterres held discussions Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Prime Minister Noori Al Maliki, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih and the ministers of interior, human rights and displacement and migration and other senior officials. He also held talks with the special representative of the UN Secretary-General in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura.

On Sunday, the High Commissioner travelled from Baghdad to Erbil, in northern Iraq. He met with several officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government before visiting a camp for some 150 displaced Iraqi families who had fled their homes in the Mosul area in 2005.

There are some 2 million Iraqi refugees outside the country - mainly in Syria and Jordan - and around 2.4 million others internally displaced within Iraq.