Iraqis in Syria and Jordan: Many more registering
In Damascus and Amman, the number of Iraqis wanting to register with UNHCR has dramatically increased over the past few days. On Sunday and Monday, UNHCR Syria received and provided registration application papers to over 5,000 people, while UNHCR Amman met with an estimated 700 Iraqis on both days and registered a quarter of them.
Despite Syrian government assurances to High Commissioner António Guterres last week not to force Iraqis back across the border, many Iraqis remain fearful of being deported under the newly reinforced Syrian immigration regulations. Iraqis first began lining up outside UNHCR's downtown Damascus office on Saturday night, hours after the High Commissioner ended a visit to the Syrian capital where he heard the concerns of some of the up to 1 million displaced Iraqis in the country and received assurances from the Syrian government that the Iraqis would not be forced back across the border.
UNHCR has significantly increased its capacity to register the thousands of Iraqis approaching the two offices in Damascus and Amman. The Damascus office has created three hotline numbers that Iraqis can ring if they or their immediate family members are facing deportation. In Amman on Sunday, 11 interview rooms were put into full operation just for registration, while Iraqis wishing to renew their documents were dealt with by different staff. UNHCR is planning to open additional registration sites in both capitals to deal better with the large numbers and to decrease the pressure on the local population living in the neighbourhoods. UNHCR is also planning to send additional staff to the region.
An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis are currently displaced within their country, while another 2 million are believed to have fled to nearby nations - mainly Syria and Jordan. An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes monthly. Last month, UNHCR launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its programmes this year aimed at helping hundred of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people affected by the conflict.
Meanwhile, the High Commissioner completed his weeklong Mid-East mission on Saturday and is now in the United States, where he is expected to discuss the Iraq displacement situation and UNHCR's humanitarian work with senior US officials in Washington, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.