Iraq: UN refugee agency has initial contingency plans for 600,000 in case of war

Iraq: UN refugee agency has initial contingency plans for 600,000 in case of war

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The United Nations refugee agency has initial contingency preparations for 600,000 refugees flooding out of Iraq in the event of conflict and is calling on all Baghdad’s neighbours to keep their borders open and provide temporary protection and assistance, an agency spokesman said today.

Stressing the number was “not a ‘prediction’ but a working figure based on many possible scenarios,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva: “The working figure is not set in stone and can be adjusted as events dictate. And we know all too well from past experience that these working figures can be substantially different than the eventual reality.”

Noting that the figure allowed UNHCR to plan budgets, logistical requirements and staffing needs, Mr. Redmond said the initial preparations require $60 million, part of the $123 million in requirements announced in New York last month to cover the initial joint preparedness efforts of nine UN humanitarian agencies and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Drawing on contributions to date – nearly $19.5 million – and existing reserves, UNHCR has spent $25.8 million on procurement, transportation and storage of non-food relief items, and on other measures in the region, pre-positioning emergency stocks for nearly 300,000 people, he said. Supplies continue to arrive and are being pre-positioned around the region, including Iskenderun, Turkey; Kermanshah, Iran; and Aqaba, Jordan.

In recent weeks about 30 additional international staff have been deployed in neighbouring countries, joining 185 national and international staff already working in 15 offices across the region. Seven emergency response teams comprising specialists in protection, assistance and technical needs, each with about 15 or 20 members capable of being deployed within 72 hours, are on standby.

“So we are doing our best with the limited resources available,” Mr. Redmond said. “The High Commissioner has asked officials in each of Iraq's neighbouring states to keep their borders open in the event of conflict. We rely on this so that refugees can seek temporary protection and assistance. Iraq's neighbours would have primary responsibility for providing refugees with temporary protection and material assistance to lessen the effects of human suffering, and for security, including maintaining the civilian and humanitarian character of any refugee-hosting areas.”

He emphasized that UNHCR would focus on upholding basic refugee protection principles, particularly the principle of non-refoulement (refugee rejection) and access to asylum.