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UN refugee agency gearing up for international meeting on Iraqis forced to flee homes

UN refugee agency gearing up for international meeting on Iraqis forced to flee homes

The humanitarian crisis facing millions of Iraqis who have been forced from their homes will be dealt with at an international meeting being convened by the United Nations refugee agency, which has invited 192 Governments, 65 international organizations and 60 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the two-day event.

“With displacement continuing at an estimated rate of up to 50,000 a month, the humanitarian needs are growing by the day and we need to do everything we can to try to get help to desperate people,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva today.

The 17-18 April ministerial-level meeting in Geneva “will examine the humanitarian dimensions of the displacement crisis, identify the enormous needs, and seek to forge a common international effort to address those needs, including through sharing the burden that’s now being borne by neighbouring States,” he said.

Approximately 2 million Iraqis live in neighboring countries such as Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey, and it has become ever more difficult for refugees to reach help in safety outside their homeland.

Meanwhile 1.9 million are displaced within their country, “many in increasingly desperate conditions,” Mr. Redmond said. Many of them find their resources dwindling, and host communities are being strained by the influx of displaced people.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, known as UNAMI, estimates that over 15 million Iraqis – including refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs), those facing food insecurity, widows and the disabled – are considered extremely vulnerable.

In Iraq, with a total population of 26 million, Mr. Redmond said that 4 million are dependent on food assistance, and only 60 per cent has access to the public food distribution system. Approximately 70 per cent of the population lacks access to adequate water supplies, while 80 per cent does not have effective sanitation. Almost a quarter of children are chronically malnourished, and the unemployment rate hovers at over 50 per cent.

In January, UNHCR launched a $60 million appeal to allow the agency to continue providing humanitarian assistance in the region, and of this fund, a third is targeted at helping tens of thousands of the most vulnerable among the IDPs.

“Providing that help is extremely difficult because of the dire security situation in much of the country,” Mr. Redmond said of the agency’s staff located in seven areas within Iraq working with almost 20 partners, most of whom are Iraqi.

“Despite the many limitations and in the face of enormous needs, the work done by our staff inside Iraq has still managed to benefit tens of thousands of internally displaced people and the families and the communities caring for them,” he added. UNHCR’s work includes distributing shelter assistance and non-food aid items, as well as providing legal assistance to transfer and replace basic documents.