Spiralling Iraqi refugee problem forces UN agency to double aid target

Spiralling Iraqi refugee problem forces UN agency to double aid target

UNHCR aid workers at camp near Iraq/Syria border
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) announced today that it is doubling to $123 million its budget to help the hundreds of thousands of uprooted Iraqis who are either internally displaced or living in neighbouring states.

The target has been revised to meet the spiralling number of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), UNHCR António Guterres said. UN officials estimate that 2,000 Iraqis are now fleeing their homes every day, and about 2 million have become IDPs and another 2.2 million are refugees, mainly in Jordan and Syria, since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.

“Host governments and communities [are] struggling to cope” with “the needs of the Iraqi refugees and internally displaced [that] are enormous and growing by the day,” Mr. Guterres said.

The revised budget includes an earlier UNHCR appeal in January for $60 million, an amount already surpassed by donors. So far, the Office has received $67 million for its Iraq operations and another $10 million is pledged or in the pipeline.

But the appeal notes that much more will need to be done in the future as, according to UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis, “the situation continues to worsen.”

The revised appeal focuses on supporting both the refugees themselves and those hosting them through addressing problems that are apparent domestically and outside of Iraq.

In Iraq, the agency plans to boost its provision of aid supplies that includes makeshift shelter for up to 100,000 vulnerable people, and to promote the establishment of inter-agency humanitarian aid depots.

Outside Iraq, UNHCR will focus on five areas of assistance – education, health, food, social and legal counselling and shelter. UNHCR already hopes to increase the number of Iraqi children in schools in the region from 60,000 to 200,000 by the end of the 2007-08 school year and to increase the number of refugee medical referrals from 10,000 a month to 20,000 by the end of this year by working closely with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP).