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High Commissioner starts week-long visit to Middle East region

Briefing notes

High Commissioner starts week-long visit to Middle East region

12 February 2008

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is in Jordan today on a week-long mission to the region aimed at highlighting the plight of millions of uprooted Iraqis and the efforts by host countries to help them.

The High Commissioner, who arrived in Amman on Monday, is scheduled to meet today with several senior Jordanian officials and will also visit UNHCR's registration centre and hold discussions with a group of Iraqi refugees. He will travel to Damascus, Syria, in the evening.

In addition to reviewing UNHCR's operations in the region, Mr. Guterres wants to assure governments in the region of our continued commitment to and engagement in efforts to ease the plight of those displaced in the region and beyond. He also wants to highlight the continuing need for resources and international support and to thank host governments such as Jordan and Syria for their generosity in caring for millions of Iraqis.

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 4.4 million Iraqis are still uprooted, including 2.4 million displaced inside Iraq and 2 million outside - mainly in Syria and Jordan. In addition, more than 41,000 non-Iraqi refugees are in Iraq, including Palestinians, Iranians, Turks and others.

According to the Iraqi Red Crescent, some 46,000 Iraqis returned home between September and December 2007, but returns now appear to have slowed.

UNHCR this year has appealed for $261 million for programmes to support the most vulnerable of the uprooted inside and outside Iraq. A total of $40 million will be for Iraqis displaced inside the country and will also be part of the Consolidated Appeal (CAP) which is to be launched later today in Baghdad by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq. The Iraq CAP of $265 million aims to meet the immediate needs of the most vulnerable Iraqis who have been displaced inside Iraq.

UNHCR has been assisting internally displaced Iraqis, but getting help to many of them is extremely difficult because of insecurity in much of the country. Most of UNHCR's work inside Iraq is overseen by some 30 local and international staff members in coordination with Iraqi aid agencies. In 2008, we are focusing on getting assistance to 400,000 of the most vulnerable of the estimated 2.4 million internally displaced people in Iraq. Programmes include protection and legal help through a network of Protection and Assistance Centres; counselling; provision of household and shelter items; support for camps for the internally displaced; and infrastructure rehabilitation projects to increase the capacity of local communities struggling to cope with internally displaced populations.

Last year, UNHCR registered more than 250,000 Iraqis in neighbouring states; gave health assistance to some 210,000 cases (including psychological care and counselling for many traumatised Iraqis) and provided educational support in Syria, Jordan and other countries that enabled tens of thousands of refugee children to attend school. Under the 2008 appeal, we have set a target of bringing the total to 200,000 children in school by the end of this year. We have also rehabilitated schools and clinics in Syria and Jordan, paid for school transport and salaries of teachers and medical staff; and covered the costs of uniforms, books and school nutrition programmes. UNHCR is also providing direct assistance to vulnerable families, including a project that provides cash cards for limited monthly withdrawals by female-headed households, widows and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Together with the World Food Programme, UNHCR will provide food supplies for up to 360,000 Iraqis refugees in Syria this year. In both Syria and Jordan UNHCR is distributing items such as blankets, heaters, mattresses and other support items.

We will also continue our resettlement programme for the most vulnerable Iraqis. Last year, more than 21,000 Iraqi resettlement cases were submitted by UNHCR to 16 governments for consideration.