Guterres urges greater support for countries hosting Iraqi refugees
AMMAN, Jordan, February 7 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Wednesday urged much more international support for Jordan, Syria and other nations that have made a "huge sacrifice" in accepting hundreds of thousands of Iraqis displaced by the violence in their homeland.
On the third-leg of a weeklong regional mission to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Syria, Guterres told journalists that displacement in Iraq had resulted in the biggest population movement in the Middle East since the Palestinians left Israel in 1948.
"Jordan has been a very generous host country for Iraqis," Guterres said, noting that about 750,000 were living in the nation of 5.8 million people. "They came in different moments and different circumstances, but many of them are in need of protection and assistance."
UNHCR last month issued a US$60 million appeal for its programmes for refugees and displaced people in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and Iran. The High Commissioner said he held "meaningful discussions" on Wednesday with several Jordanian officials, including the ministers of foreign affairs and interior as well as Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit.
"I want to strongly appeal to the international community not only to support UNHCR's activities, but to support countries that are making such a huge sacrifice, particularly as is the case today with Jordan and Syria," he said.
"The pressure over society, over resources and infrastructure, over social systems and education, is enormous. The sacrifices made by these countries are remarkable and the international community needs to assume full responsibility supporting them."
As part of that effort to generate more global support, Guterres noted that UNHCR was organising an international conference in Geneva this spring to address humanitarian issues related to displacement in Iraq and the region.
"This problem has been neglected by the international community and we are convening a conference in Geneva in April," he said.
"Our concern is ... not only our activities but that the countries that are making such a huge effort in protection and assistance of refugees and other displaced persons will hopefully receive meaningful support from the international community.
"The international community must be mobilised for that support because the burden must be shared in a fair and effective way. A limited number of countries are paying a very heavy price for the protection of these people in distress," he added.
Guterres said it was essential that a "protection space" be maintained for Iraqis while at the same time ensuring that the legitimate security and other concerns of the host governments be recognised and addressed as well.
Only a political solution in Iraq would resolve the problem, allowing the Iraqis to return and build their lives.
"We are not doctors, we are only nurses," Guterres said. "We cannot cure the disease; the disease is political and the cure is political. We cannot have a political activity. We are humanitarian, so we will go on dealing with the symptoms. To cure the disease means bringing stability and security to Iraq and that needs the engagement of Iraqis as well as the international community as a whole."
Asked about resettling Iraqis to third countries, the High Commissioner said the international community was beginning to take a more positive position on the issue. But he also noted resettlement is always a limited solution to be used only for the most vulnerable people.
"I can say we have had a very positive recent response, both from the United States and from other resettlement countries," he said. "We believe that the international community is awakening to a more positive attitude in relation to the possible resettlement of Iraqis and will be actively cooperating with different countries."
By Ron Redmond in Amman, Jordan