Arab League to launch fund-raising campaign for Iraqi refugees
CAIRO, Egypt, January 10 (UNHCR) - The League of Arab States, working with UNHCR and other international organizations, will on Friday launch a massive fund-raising and public awareness campaign to help hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees.
The League and its partners hope that the "Arabs Hand-in-Hand with Iraqis" campaign, the brainchild of popular Arab Iraqi musician Naseer Shamma, will raise millions of dollars.
It will be launched tomorrow with major coverage on Arab satellite television stations, including Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and the Egyptian Satellite Channel, as well as more than a dozen national channels in the Arab world. Shamma and other celebrities will be taking part.
The aim of the 90-day campaign is to seek donations from viewers and to raise awareness about the plight of Iraqi refugees in countries - especially top host countries, Syria and Jordan - through advertising, feature stories, documentaries and testimonials from refugees.
"'Arabs Hand-in-Hand with Iraqis' is first and foremost a show of support and solidarity for displaced Iraqis," said Amre Moussa, secretary-general of the Cairo-based League of Arab States. "We certainly hope and count on the generosity of Arabs to lend a supporting hand to the most vulnerable of Iraqis in neighbouring countries," he added.
"The Iraqi people have suffered extreme hardship. Women, children, entire families have witnessed terrible violence and despair," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in a video message to be used in the campaign. "I appeal to you to support your Iraqi brothers and sisters.... Your voice and helping hand can make a profound difference," he added.
The UN refugee agency has provided the campaign with 15 hours of video material as well as photographs and awareness literature. The video material includes footage of Shamma's visit to Syria as well as short stories in Arabic about the situation of Iraqi refugees in the region.
UNHCR has also helped the League kick-start the campaign by providing expertise in generating press communiqués, releases and news stories.
Messages from virtuoso oud player Shamma and other Arab artists, entertainers and public figures, will also be aired throughout the campaign. They will seek donations from the public and help to raise awareness.
Shamma approached the League of Arab States in October offering to help after watching a documentary on Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries. "Ever since I saw this film, I have not been able to sleep well knowing that many Iraqi families are facing the harsh winter cold, away from home, unable to afford the cost of feeding their children and struggling to make ends need," said the musician, who met Iraqi refugees during a visit to Syria last month.
Last September, League members agreed to set up a special account for governments, private sector and individuals to contribute funds in support of displaced Iraqis in neighbouring countries.
During his December visit to Damascus, Shamma visited a refugee registration centre and talked to some of the 1.4 million refugees in the country about their suffering and needs. He was mobbed wherever he went and repeatedly asked for help.
"I did not know before today that there are many layers [of Iraqi refugees] under the poverty line. UNHCR has done its share but it is time now for the Arab people to do their share and support Iraqi refugees," he told journalists at the end of his trip.
The UN refugee agency estimates more than 2.2 million Iraqis displaced inside their own country, while over 2 million have fled to other countries. Most of the refugees outside Iraq are in Syria and Jordan and are living in urban areas such as Damascus and Amman. Many of them are running out of money and finding it increasingly difficult to get by.
In addition to direct assistance to some of the most vulnerable refugees, UNHCR is helping governments in the region to cope with the huge numbers of Iraqis who have strained local resources and infrastructure, including education and health systems.