The United Nations refugee agency today launched a $60-million appeal to fund its work over the next year for hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by the conflict in Iraq.
The funds will cover UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and IDPs, in what the agency says is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948. About one out of every eight Iraqis is now displaced.
“The burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous. It is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts to help the most vulnerable people,” High Commissioner António Guterres said. “The longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it becomes for the hundreds of thousands of people displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq.”
UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.7 million Iraqis are displaced internally and up to 2 million have fled to nearby countries. While many were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and generalized violence.
In 2006 alone, UNHCR estimates that nearly 500,000 Iraqis fled to other areas inside the country and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. Planning figures under the latest appeal are for up to 2.3 million IDPs by the end of this year. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region.
A significant proportion of both internally and externally displaced Iraqis has run out of resources or will soon do so, leaving them and their host communities increasingly vulnerable, UNHCR said. There are increasing reports of women forced to resort to prostitution, as well as growing child labour problems.
A main objective will be ensuring effective protection and assistance for up to 200,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqis in nearby countries, nearly all of them in urban areas such as Amman in Jordan and Damascus in Syria.
Estimates of Iraqis who have fled to neighbouring states include 500,000 to 1 million in Syria; up to 700,000 in Jordan; up to 80,000 in Egypt; and up to 40,000 in Lebanon. Turkey has an unknown number. Many of those in nearby countries fled before 2003, but tens of thousands continue to flee monthly, particularly to Syria and Jordan. More international help is needed to ensure that neighbouring states keep their borders open to those in need of refuge.