UN conference agrees on urgent need to help 4 million uprooted Iraqis

António Guterres addresses journalists

18 April 2007 – An international conference in Geneva organized by the United Nations refugee agency to focus on the plight of the nearly 4 million Iraqis who have fled their homes ended today with agreement on the urgent need to stem the outflow of people while assisting those in need, including by providing support to neighbouring countries which are sheltering refugees.

“There was truly a humanitarian spirit that allowed us to work together, to work together in a committed way for the same purpose – the people we care for, the Iraqis displaced inside and outside Iraq,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres told a concluding news conference after the two-day gathering that drew representatives of 60 nations.

There are some 1.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Iraq and 2 million refugees abroad.

The conference, which attracted the participation of some 450 delegates, opened with an appeal from UNHCR for a sustained, comprehensive and coordinated international response to the humanitarian crisis – the largest displacement of population since the war surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.

Many Iraqis were displaced before the fall of the previous regime in 2003. Between 2003 and 2005, more than 300,000 Iraqis had returned home to begin rebuilding their lives but the trend has dramatically reversed. About 750,000 people are estimated to have fled their homes since February 2006, with up to 50,000 more displaced each month.

“There has been broad recognition of the fact that local integration of such large numbers of Iraqis in countries of asylum is not an option, and that resettlement will give priority to the most vulnerable,” Mr. Guterres said. “Everyone emphasized that the preferred solution for the overwhelming majority of Iraqi refugees will be their voluntary return.”

Mr. Guterres voiced hope that international gratitude for the burden assumed by receiving countries – with Syria hosting 1.2 million Iraqis and Jordan another 750,000 – would soon translate into financial support. He also sought an increased amount of resettlement to third countries, considered necessary for the most vulnerable refugees.

On the broader need for a political solution, he said participants called for urgent action “in order to find a durable solution based on national reconciliation.”

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