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Iraq humanitarian conference on displacement set for April 17-18

Briefing notes

Iraq humanitarian conference on displacement set for April 17-18

23 February 2007

The High Commissioner announced during his recent mission to the Middle East that UNHCR will be convening an international conference here in Geneva on the humanitarian needs of refugees and displaced people in Iraq and the surrounding region. For your planning purposes, the dates have now been set for the 1½-day conference - April 17 and 18. The ministerial-level conference will be held here in the Palais des Nations. The specific agenda, exact room location and other arrangements are still being worked out and we'll provide you with more details as we get them.

The conference will bring together Iraqi authorities and those of neighbouring countries, major refugee-hosting states, major donor countries, resettlement countries, concerned regional governmental organisations; NGOs, UN and non-UN partners and others.

It will have three broad objectives:

  • To sensitize the international community to the humanitarian dimensions of the situation, as well as foreseeable needs for protection and assistance for the millions who have been uprooted;
  • To seek commitments to address the humanitarian problems, including through more international burden-sharing to ease the strain on the current refugee-hosting states; through financial support or capacity-building; through more funding for IDP and refugee protection and assistance programmes; through improving the quality of protection for the uprooted and by providing resettlement opportunities for the most vulnerable.
  • To identify more targeted responses to specific problems, including finding lasting solutions for those groups most at risk - e.g. Palestinian refugees in Iraq.

So this is not specifically a pledging or donor conference. It encompasses a much broader range of issues and objectives - including a better understanding of the dimensions of this displacement crisis and the needs of those affected. The international community needs to focus collectively on a host of humanitarian needs, working together to ease the suffering of millions of refugees and displaced people in the region. Close to 2 million Iraqis are displaced within Iraq, and about 2 million are outside, mostly in Syria, Jordan and nearby countries. While many of those inside and outside Iraq had fled before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing their homes - up to 50,000 a month. An estimated 712,000 have been internally displaced just over the past year, since the Samarra bombing on Feb. 22, 2006.

The hospitality of nearby host countries is becoming strained. Syria has at least a million Iraqis and Jordan an estimated 750,000. Egypt, Iran, Lebanon and Turkey also have tens of thousands. Their generosity has been exceptional, but security and socio-economic concerns are putting enormous pressure on host countries. So we need to bring all interested parties together to address this growing humanitarian crisis, the full extent of which the international community is only beginning to recognise.

In another development, UNHCR would like to welcome the Syrian government's decision to rescind some instructions issued last month on various procedures for Iraqis in the country. The instructions had caused considerable anxiety among many of the Iraqis in Syria and we very much appreciate the government's efforts to clarify the rules and ease those concerns.