The number of Iraqis uprooted from their homes by the deteriorating humanitarian situation, both inside and outside the country, is rising, with the monthly rate climbing to over 60,000 people, compared to 50,000 previously, for an overall total of 4.2 million people, the United Nations refugee agency reported today.
“We continue to appeal for more support and also encourage donors to provide direct bilateral support to the refugee hosting countries whose schools, hospitals, public services and infrastructure are seriously overstretched because of the presence of millions of Iraqis they have so generously welcomed,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva.
“Displacement is rising as Iraqis are finding it harder to get access to social services inside Iraq and many Iraqis are choosing to leave ethnically mixed areas before they are forced to do so. Some Iraqis who stayed in the country until the end of the school year recently started leaving the country with their families,” she said.
More than 2 million Iraqis are displaced inside Iraq, with over 1 million uprooted since the February 2006 bombings of a Shiite mosque in Samarra. While most security incidents happen in the centre and south, those displaced are not confined there.
In the north, there are more than 780,000 displaced Iraqis, over 650,000 in the centre and 790,000 in the south. Many are barely surviving in makeshift camps, inaccessible to aid workers for security reasons.
Syria, which has generously kept its borders open to fleeing Iraqis, estimates that more than 1.4 million Iraqis are now in the country. A further 500,000 to 750,000 Iraqis are estimated to be in Jordan. The number of Iraqi asylum seekers in Europe in the first half of 2007 rose to nearly 20,000 ? the same number received during all of 2006.
With over 300 staff working on the Iraq operation, UNHCR has now registered more than 170,000 refugees in neighbouring countries, 15 per cent of whom need special assistance including many very traumatized people and torture victims.
“Since the start of this year, we have referred over 13,200 of the most vulnerable Iraqi cases to resettlement countries,” Ms. Pagonis said. These include 9,888 cases to the United States, and 3,344 cases to Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Brazil.
“So far only several hundred cases have left for life in a third country,” she added. “We urge the resettlement countries to make rapid decisions and facilitate the departure of those most in need, many of whom are urgent medical cases, single female-headed households, torture victims and others.”
UNHCR is doing all it can to support Jordan and Syria which are facing additional pressure on their education systems, by building and rehabilitating schools, providing transport, school material and salaries for additional teachers and setting up double shift systems in the schools.
Inside Iraq, UNHCR and its partners are trying to do as much as possible to help the displaced, even though security conditions make this difficult. “We are providing emergency assistance to the most needy, visiting the accessible displacement sites or makeshift camps, providing non-food items and emergency shelter,” Ms. Pagonis said.
UNHCR has appealed for $223 million for the Iraq humanitarian crisis. The first appeal of $123 million has been funded by 75 per cent. But the second $129 million joint education appeal with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) aimed at getting an additional 150,000 Iraqi refugee children back to schools in neighbouring countries, has still not been funded, although there are good indications funds will be coming.