Guterres welcomes U.S. support for Iraqi refugees
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 15 (UNHCR) - The United States has pledged US$18 million towards the UN refugee agency's Iraq operations and agreed to resettle up to 7,000 Iraqi refugees after a meeting between UNHCR chief António Guterres and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday.
Speaking at a press conference following the meeting, High Commissioner Guterres along with Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky and Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Ellen Sauerbrey, stated that UNHCR and the United States are committed to working together to find lasting solutions for displaced Iraqis.
The High Commissioner also welcomed the U.S. announcement of an $18 million contribution towards UNHCR's January appeal for $60 million for its 2007 Iraq operation. Additionally, the U.S. will expand its capacity to receive refugee resettlement referrals for up to 7,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees this year.
"Resettlement is the difference between life and death," Guterres stated, "but it is not a solution for all problems and it is not an excuse not to address refugee problems in their global dimensions."
He stressed that resettlement is a solution reserved for those with particular needs and who can only find safety in a third country, such as at-risk women, children, the elderly, and those with health concerns. The U.S. accepts more than half of the global number of resettled refugees annually.
"Our commitment to working together to find durable solutions for Iraqi refugees includes providing humanitarian assistance, augmenting the capacity of UNHCR to identify and refer refugees in need of resettlement and committing additional resources to assist internally displaced persons in Iraq," said Under Secretary of State Dobriansky.
An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis are currently displaced within Iraq while up to 2 million Iraqi refugees have fled to neighbouring countries, primarily to Syria and Jordan. Guterres emphasized that neighbouring countries are finding it difficult to absorb the increasing number of Iraqi refugees as their economic, social, education and health infrastructure is being stretched. An estimated 50,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes each month.
"Syria and Jordan have been very generous in welcoming Iraqis," said Guterres. "But with the increasing numbers their situation is becoming more and more difficult to bear. I believe it is very important that the international community help these countries sustain their efforts at protection and assistance for Iraqi refugees."
Dobriansky stated that the U.S. will provide leadership to help UNHCR and non-governmental organisations build their capacity to assist refugees and internally displaced people through voluntary repatriation when possible, through supporting the resettlement of the most vulnerable individuals to third countries, including the United States, and through encouraging neighbouring countries to uphold the principle of first asylum.
"There is a lot to be done and we are firmly committed to help those in need," stated Dobriansky, while voicing U.S. support for an international conference of donors to be held in Geneva in April. "We are committed to working with the Iraqi government to create a stable and secure environment that enables Iraqis to repatriate voluntarily to their homeland. At the same time we have a responsibility to respond to the immediate needs of Iraqis who have fled violent persecution, and the United States will provide leadership in meeting those needs."
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the establishment of a special task force to coordinate assistance for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people in the region and U.S. refugee resettlement efforts.
By Lilli Tnaib in Washington, D.C., United States