The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today urged States to step up and assist the two countries caring for the biggest proportion of Iraqi refugees – Syria and Jordan – which have still received “next to nothing,” despite the pledges of support made during an international conference on the issue in April.
“It is unconscionable that generous host countries be left on their own to deal with such a huge crisis,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva. “We strongly urge governments to step forward now to support them in dealing with this situation and renew our call for international solidarity and burden sharing.”
Syria and Jordan, with an estimated 2 million Iraqi refugees between them, are “struggling to cope,” Mr. Redmond said. Syria continues to receive about 2,000 Iraqis a day and about 30,000 a month end up staying.
At the UNHCR-sponsored Iraq displacement conference held in Geneva, some 450 delegates agreed on the urgent need to stem the outflow of people while assisting those in need, including by providing support to Iraq’s neighbours which are sheltering refugees.
“The growing refugee population and the communities that host them are facing enormous hardships that will only get worse if the international community doesn't put its money where its mouth is,” Mr. Redmond said.
As UNHCR emphasized in April, its $60 million programme for Iraqi refugees and displaced – soon to be raised to more than $100 million – is “just a drop in the ocean” compared to the huge needs in the region, he added.
While contributions to UNHCR have been “generous,” totaling some $70 million with another $10 million pledged or in the pipeline, Mr. Redmond stressed that the agency “cannot do everything alone.”
He urged donors to provide direct bilateral support to these host countries whose schools, hospitals, public services and infrastructure are seriously overstretched because of the presence of millions of Iraqis they have welcomed.
“Every week, we’re seeing sick and maimed Iraqis, including many burn and trauma victims, arriving in Syria for medical help,” Mr. Redmond said, pointing out that UNHCR is doing its best with the Syrian health care facilities, but added, “You can imagine the needs.”
He also called attention to the plight of the youngest Iraqis, warning that “A whole generation of Iraqi children is in danger of missing out on an education” despite the best efforts of educational officials in host countries.
Meanwhile, UNHCR continued its appeal for the urgent medical evacuation of a dozen Palestinian children from Baghdad and from the makeshift Al-Waleed camp on the Iraq side of the Syrian border who suffer from serious and life-threatening medical problems.
“If these children are not evacuated soon, some may die or be handicapped for life,” Mr. Redmond stated, adding that while there has been interest in the children from various European countries and from some individuals, “so far we have nothing concrete.”