Iraq situation deteriorates further; US gives $30 million to aid education
GENEVA, August 28 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency warned on Tuesday that the humanitarian situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate with the number of displaced Iraqis, both inside and outside the country, rising.
Spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told reporters in Geneva that UNHCR and Iraqi Red Crescent estimates put the number of uprooted Iraqis at 4.2 million Iraqis, with the monthly rate of displacement climbing to more than 60,000 people compared to 50,000 previously.
"Displacement is rising as Iraqis are finding it harder to get access to social services inside Iraq and many Iraqis are choosing to leave ethnically mixed areas before they are forced to do so. Some Iraqis who stayed in the country until the end of the school year recently started leaving the country with their families," Pagonis said.
She spoke as US Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey announced a US$30 million contribution to a joint UNHCR-UNICEF (UN Children's Fund) $129 million programme aimed at ensuring an education for Iraqi refugee children in host countries such as Syria and Jordan.
UNHCR Representative in Jordan Imran Riza welcomed the US gesture while urging "the international community to respond quickly and generously to the UN appeal." UNHCR and UNICEF seek US$129 million to send 155,000 Iraqi children to school in Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon this academic year.
Sauerbrey handles US policy for refugees. Her announcement came at a girls school in Amman which began admitting Iraqi refugees earlier this month, when Jordan said it would allow tens of thousands of refugee children to attend public schools even if their parents did not possess resident permits.
In Geneva, UNHCR's Pagonis said more than 2 million Iraqis were displaced inside Iraq, with above 1 million displaced since the February 2006 Samarra mosque bombing. While most of the security incidents happen in the centre and south of the country, the displaced are not confined to these regions.
In the north, there are more than 780,000 displaced Iraqis, over 650,000 in the centre of the country and 790,000 in the south. Many are barely surviving in makeshift camps, inaccessible to aid workers for security reasons.
Syria, which has generously kept its borders open to fleeing Iraqis, estimates that more than 1.4 million Iraqis are now in the country. Jordan estimates that some 500,000-750,000 Iraqis are in its territory. The number of Iraqi asylum seekers in Europe in the first half of this year rose to nearly 20,000.
With more than 300 staff working on the Iraq operation, UNHCR has now registered more than 170,000 refugees in the countries neighbouring Iraq, 15 percent of whom need special assistance.
Since the start of this year, we have referred more than 13,200 of the most vulnerable Iraqi cases to resettlement countries, Pagonis said, adding that so far only several hundred cases have left for life in a third country. "We urge the resettlement countries to make rapid decisions and facilitate the departure of those most in need, many of whom are urgent medical cases, single female-headed households, torture victims and others." UNHCR aims to provide up to 20,000 Iraqi resettlement cases to governments this year.
The UNHCR spokeswoman also noted efforts by the agency since June to encourage Iraqi children in Syria to register for the new academic school year, which begins in mid-September.
Inside Iraq, UNHCR and its partners are trying to do as much as possible to help the displaced, even though security conditions make this difficult. The agency is providing emergency assistance to the most needy, visiting the accessible displacement sites or makeshift camps, providing non-food items and emergency shelter.
Along the Iraq-Syria border, the situation remains desperate for more than 1,600 Palestinians stranded in two camp sites, Al Tanf and Al Waleed. "We stress again the urgent need to find a humanitarian solution for this group of refugees," Pagonis said.
UNHCR has appealed for US$223 million for the Iraq humanitarian crisis. The first appeal of US$123 million has been funded by 75 percent. But the second US$129 million joint education appeal with UNICEF seeks more donor generosity.