Arab League to launch massive campaign for Iraqi refugees with UN help

Campaign poster "Arabs Hand-in-Hand with Iraqis"

10 January 2008 – The 22-member Arab League, working with the United Nations refugee agency and other international organizations, is launching a massive fund-raising and public awareness campaign tomorrow to help Iraqis displaced by violence.

“The Iraqi people have suffered extreme hardship. Women, children, entire families have witnessed terrible violence and despair,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres says in a video message to be used in the campaign. “I appeal to you to support your Iraqi brothers and sisters.... Your voice and helping hand can make a profound difference.”

The League and its partners hope that the 90-day “Arabs Hand-in-Hand with Iraqis” campaign, the brainchild of popular Iraqi musician Naseer Shamma, will raise millions of dollars from viewers and raise awareness about the plight of the refugees through advertising, feature stories, documentaries and testimonials from refugees.

It will be launched tomorrow with major coverage on Arab satellite television stations, including Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and the Egyptian Satellite Channel, as well as more than a dozen national channels in the Arab world. Mr. Shamma and other celebrities will take part.

UNHCR has provided the campaign with 15 hours of video material as well as photographs and awareness literature. The video material includes footage of Mr. Shamma’s visit to Syria, a major host country for Iraqi refugees, as well as short stories in Arabic about the situation of the refugees in the region.

The agency has also helped the League kick-start the campaign by providing expertise in generating press communiques, releases and news stories.

During a December visit to Damascus, Mr. Shamma visited a refugee registration centre and talked to some of the 1.4 million refugees in the country about their suffering and needs. He was mobbed wherever he went and repeatedly asked for help.

“I did not know before today that there are many layers [of Iraqi refugees] under the poverty line. UNHCR has done its share but it is time now for the Arab people to do their share and support Iraqi refugees,” he told journalists at the end of his trip.

The agency estimates that there are more than 2.2 million Iraqis displaced inside their own country, while over 2 million have fled to other countries, mostly Syria and Jordan. Many of them are running out of money and finding it increasingly difficult to get by.

In addition to direct assistance to some of the most vulnerable refugees, UNHCR is helping Governments in the region to cope with the huge numbers of Iraqis who have strained local resources and infrastructure, including education and health systems.

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