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UN seeks $261 million to help hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis

UN seeks $261 million to help hundreds of thousands of displaced Iraqis

The United Nations refugee agency is seeking $261 million this year to help some of the 4 million people uprooted by the conflict in Iraq, covering many of the 2.2 million Iraqis displaced within the country and the 2 million who have fled beyond its borders.

Most of the refugees outside Iraq are in Syria and Jordan and are living in urban areas such as Damascus and Amman. Many of them are running out of money and finding it increasingly difficult to get by, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva today.

In addition to direct assistance to some of the most vulnerable refugees, UNHCR is supporting efforts by Governments in the region that are struggling to cope with the huge numbers of Iraqis who have strained local resources and infrastructure, including schools and health systems.

UNHCR has registered more than 220,000 Iraqis in neighbouring States, given health assistance for some 210,000 cases, and provided educational support in Syria, Jordan and other countries that has enabled 100,000 refugee children to attend school.

“Under the 2008 appeal, we have set a target of getting another 100,000 Iraqi refugee children into school, bringing the total to 200,000 by the end of this year,” Mr. Redmond said. “We will also continue direct assistance to vulnerable families, including a programme that provides cash cards for limited monthly withdrawals by female-headed households, widows and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses.”

Funds are also being allocated in 2008 to cover some of the needs of up to 15,000 Iraqi refugee families who may decide to return home during the year. Iraqi authorities say at least 30,000 families returned in late 2007 to certain areas of the country, although UNHCR is unable to confirm that figure.

In its appeal, UNHCR stresses that it cannot at this time promote or encourage the return of Iraqi refugees, citing continuing security concerns and other factors. “We are ready, however, to support the Government in providing assistance to those who do decide to return,” Mr. Redmond said.

The appeal covers programmes for internally displaced Iraqis, but notes that getting help to many of them is extremely difficult because of insecurity in much of the country. Most of UNHCR’s work inside Iraq is overseen by local staff in coordination with Iraqi aid agencies.

“In 2008, we will focus on getting assistance to 400,000 of the most vulnerable of the estimated 2.2 million internally displaced people in Iraq,” Mr. Redmond said, citing programmes for protection and legal help and provision of household and shelter items.

The appeal makes special mention of the dire situation facing some 13,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq, many of whom have been targeted by armed groups and who have been unable to find sanctuary in other countries. UNHCR will continue to seek solutions for the Palestinians, including the possibility of resettlement for the most vulnerable.

The Palestinians fled to Iraq after the creation of Israel in 1948. Some received preferential treatment under Saddam Hussein and have become targets for attack since his overthrow in 2003. Nearly 20,000 of them have already fled but an estimated 13,000 still remain in the country, mostly in Baghdad.