UN agency mobilizes Iraqis to extend helping hand to fellow refugees in Syria

31 December 2009

The United Nations refugee agency has marshalled some 80 Iraqi women to volunteer assistance to their fellow refugees spread out over a number of large cities in Syria, in an innovative move aimed at overcoming the unique challenges faced by this vulnerable group.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have fled to Syrian cities to escape the deadly violence at home, causing particular problems for humanitarian agencies.

Unlike traditional camps where the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) can deliver services and supplies to tens of thousands of refugees in one stop, Iraqis in Syria not only have trouble getting to the agency’s offices because of lack or transport, money or poor health, but UNHCR may even have trouble finding them to provide the help needed.

“One thing the experience with Iraqi refugees in the Middle East has taught us is that we need to offer services in new ways,” said Zahra Mirghani, UNHCR Senior Community Service Officer in Syria.

“Community services officers and others who do similar jobs are becoming increasingly important as more and more refugees live in cities and towns rather than camps,” added Ms. Mirghani.

In Syria, the 80 outreach volunteers visit refugees in their homes, act as social workers, offer informal counselling and highlight their needs for UNHCR’s attention, and with the support of 12 support group volunteers they also care for the elderly, the disabled, children or teenagers on their own, and people with psychosocial problems.


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