UN refugee chief in Middle East to strengthen ties with Gulf States and Muslim world
After wrapping up a weekend trip to Baghdad to find ways to bolster humanitarian support for the millions uprooted by the conflict in Iraq, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is in Bahrain today, as part of a mission to the Middle East to strengthen the agency’s partnerships with Gulf nations and the Muslim world in general.
In Baghdad, Mr. Guterres held talks with top officials, stressing that the Iraqi Government must take control of the international effort to address the needs of the estimated 1.9 million people who are displaced within the country and an additional 2 million who have fled their homeland.
“The clear engagement of the Iraqi Government in support of their own citizens living in the neighboring countries is a vital element not only in alleviating their plight, but as an instrument to reinforce the links of Iraqi refugees with their own country and preparing for their voluntary return when conditions allow,” Mr. Guterres said. “UNHCR is ready to cooperate with the Iraqi Government to facilitate the most effective forms of cooperation.”
Among others, he met with Presidnet Jalal Talibani, Vice President Tarik al-Hashemi, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bollani and Minister of Displacement and Migration Abdul-Samad Rahman Sultan.
The High Commissioner also briefed the Iraqi officials on the upcoming UNHCR-backed international conference, scheduled to be held in Geneva on 17-18 April. Almost 200 Governments have been invited to the high-level meeting which aims to create a global effort to find a humanitarian solution for those uprooted by the conflict in Iraq.
Following his meetings with Iraqi authorities, the High Commissioner announced that UNHCR would bolster its international presence in Iraq and also increase activities in the country.
Currently, UNHCR has seven offices in Iraq to facilitate humanitarian programmes, and the agency’s work inside the country is primarily carried out by national staff members.
Approximately 1.2 million Iraqis are residing in Syria while another 750,000 are in Jordan, putting a strain on the resources of host countries dealing with the influx of refugees.
UNHCR has urged the international community to share the burden borne by the States sheltering Iraqi refugees through several avenues, including supporting the work of the agency and other humanitarian partners in the region, giving bilateral aid to governments and assisting in resettling the most vulnerable refugees.
On Sunday, High Commissioner António Guterres stopped in Qatar, and he will be in Bahrain until tomorrow evening when he travels to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mr. Guterres will then move on to Dubai on Thursday.
The High Commissioner’s Middle East trip is a continuation of his last visit to the region in early February when he went to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.