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Preparations for next month's international humanitarian conference on refugees and displaced in Iraq

Briefing notes

Preparations for next month's international humanitarian conference on refugees and displaced in Iraq

20 March 2007 Also available in:

Invitations have now gone out to 192 governments, 65 international organisations and some 60 NGOs for next month's international humanitarian conference on refugees and displaced in Iraq and neighbouring countries. The April 17-18 ministerial-level meeting will be held here in the Palais. It will examine the humanitarian dimensions of the displacement crisis, identify the enormous needs, and seek to forge a common international effort to address those needs, including through sharing the burden that's now being borne by neighbouring states. It will also seek targeted responses to specific, urgent humanitarian problems, including immediate solutions for those who are particularly vulnerable both inside and outside Iraq.

Some 2 million Iraqis are now in neighbouring countries in the region, many of whom were uprooted prior to 2003. But we also need to focus on the estimated 1.9 million Iraqis who remain displaced inside their own country, many of them in increasingly desperate conditions. While many were also displaced before 2003, we estimate that just since the beginning of last year - and particularly since the Samara bombing of February 2006 - nearly 730,000 Iraqis have become newly displaced by sectarian violence.

They and millions more Iraqis are facing severe hardship. In fact, UNAMI estimates that more than 15 million Iraqis are now considered extremely vulnerable - including refugees, displaced people, those facing food insecurity, widows, disabled people and so on. Reaching help and safety in neighbouring countries is becoming increasingly difficult. Many of those who have fled to other parts of Iraq have run out of resources, and host communities are also struggling to absorb increasing numbers of displaced. An estimated 4 million Iraqis are dependent on food assistance. Only 60 percent have access to the public food distribution system. The chronic child malnutrition rate is at 23 percent. Some 70 percent of the Iraqi population lack access to adequate water supplies, while 80 percent lack effective sanitation. The unemployment rate is over 50 percent.

About a third of UNHCR's $60 million appeal for the region - more than half of which has so far been raised - is aimed at providing help to tens of thousands of the most vulnerable of these internally displaced people inside Iraq. Compared to the overall needs, it's a drop in the ocean. And providing that help is extremely difficult because of the dire security situation in much of the country. Our staff in seven locations in Iraq (Baghdad, Suleymaniyah, Dohuk, Erbil, Kirkuk, Nasiriya, Basra) work with a network of at least 17 different partners, including the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration. Our UNHCR colleagues there are overwhelmingly Iraqi and they bravely work under what could best be termed remote management. This operating structure is pretty much unique to Iraq and UNHCR recently hosted a meeting here in Geneva with other humanitarian agencies to share ideas on how we can better provide humanitarian assistance in such a difficult and dangerous environment. Despite the many limitations and in the face of enormous needs, the work done by our staff inside Iraq has still managed to benefit tens of thousands of internally displaced people and the families and communities caring for them. We provide everything from shelter assistance and non-food aid items to the operation of 14 legal assistance centres throughout the country where the displaced can get support, including the transfer and replacement of basic documents. Such documents are vital because without them, food rations can be withheld and governorate authorities can prevent access by IDPs to even the most basic of services.

With displacement continuing at an estimated rate of up to 50,000 a month, the humanitarian needs are growing by the day and we need to do everything we can to try to get help to desperate people.