Money running out for Iraqi refugee crisis, warns UN agency

9 May 2008

The United Nations refugee said today that it could soon be forced to reduce or even halt assistance to hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees unless donors provide more funds.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said there was a $127 shortfall for health, education and food assistance for Iraqi refugees. “We will not be able to help hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees and internally displaced if we do not receive funding for the remainder of 2008,” said High Commissioner António Guterres. “Without this support, the humanitarian crisis we have faced over the past two years may grow even larger,” he added.

A total of 4.7 million Iraqis have been uprooted as a result of the crisis in their country. Of these over 2 million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries – mostly Syria and Jordan – while 2.7 million are internally displaced inside Iraq.

UNHCR said that, without extra funding, it would not be able to cover all the basic health needs of Iraqi refugees, and many seriously ill Iraqis will not be able to receive their monthly medication. A growing number of Iraqis are fleeing their country in search of medical treatment after the collapse of health services in their homeland. Since January some 170,000 refugees have received basic health care assistance in Syria and Jordan.

In addition, UNHCR may be forced to reduce food aid to 150,000 refugees, forcing them into “further destitution,” while efforts to double the number of Iraqi refugee children in school, from 70,000 to 140,000 may have to be cut back, leaving many of them to miss out on education.

Omar, a 69-year-old refugee from Baghdad, interviewed by UNHCR, said that he will die a “slow death” if assistance is stopped. His family has depended on food and medical aid since arriving in Syria in 2006, and pay rent out of remittances from Iraq which he described as “our only way to survive.”

In a related development, UNHCR announced it had contracted the International Medical Corps (IMC) to run clinics in Damascus, the first time an international non-governmental organization (INGO) has worked with Iraqi refugees in Syria.

To date, INGOs have not been given permission to work with Iraqi refugees in Syria. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent has been UNHCR’s main partner along with a number of small local charities. IMC will start work at a time when Syrian Arab Red Crescent clinics are facing rising numbers of Iraqi patients. UNHCR surveys have found that more than 18 per cent of registered Iraqi refugees in Syria suffer from a serious medical condition.

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