Greater efforts needed to help refugees outside Iraq, says senior UN official

21 July 2009

A senior official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has pressed Iraqi authorities to do more to include refugees living outside the country’s borders in its national reconciliation process.

A senior official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has pressed Iraqi authorities to do more to include refugees living outside the country’s borders in its national reconciliation process.

L. Craig Johnstone, Deputy High Commissioner for UNHCR, is halfway through a five-day visit to Iraq, where he is meeting with officials and is assessing the agency’s operations for returnees, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

During his talks yesterday with Vice-President Tarek Al-Hashimi, as well as the Minister of Human Rights and Minister for Migration and Development, UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond said that Mr. Johnstone stressed that “while the Government had quite naturally focused in the last few years on the situation inside the country, it was now time to increase contacts with refugee communities outside Iraq and to begin fostering a climate of confidence in the future in terms of security, political assurances and protection.”

This, the Deputy High Commissioner said, could pave the way for refugees to return voluntarily, but he also acknowledged that due to insecurity in some areas, “we are not there yet.”

He also commended the Iraqi Government for its compensation package for returnees and IDP families.

However, Mr. Johnstone underscored that greater efforts – including the provision of land for returnees – are crucial since the situation in Iraq will no be resolved “until the plight of displaced people and refugees has been resolved.

Shelter, he pointed out, is also crucial in laying the groundwork for the return of uprooted people.

UNHCR and its Iraqi partners have rehabilitated 5,000 homes for returnees and IDPs, with another 20,000 to be refurbished by the end of this year, Mr. Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

“The Deputy High Commissioner pledged that UNHCR will help in every way it can, particularly with respect to shelter because we accept the notion that people cannot return if they do not have safety and a home to return to,” the spokesperson said.

Currently, there are still more than 1.5 million Iraqis living outside the country, mostly in Syria and Jordan, with a further 2 million others displaced within Iraq.

 

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