Growing Needs Amid Continuing Displacement
Incessant violence across much of Iraq’s central and southern regions has forced tens of thousands of people to leave their homes every month, presenting the international community with a humanitarian crisis even larger than the upheaval aid agencies had planned for during the 2003 war.
UNHCR estimates that more than 4.2 million Iraqis have left their homes. Of these, some 2.2 million Iraqis are displaced internally, while more than 2 million have fled to neighbouring states, particularly Syria and Jordan. Many were displaced prior to 2003, but an increasing number are fleeing now. In 2006, Iraqis had become the leading nationality seeking asylum in Europe.
Much of UNHCR’s work in Iraq since the fall in 2003 of the Saddam Hussein regime was based on the assumption that the domestic situation would stabilize and hundreds of thousands of previously displaced Iraqis would soon be able to go home. In 2006, however, spiralling violence led to increasing displacement, necessitating a reassessment of UNHCR’s work and its priorities throughout the region – from assisting returns and aiding some 50,000 non-Iraqi refugees in Iraq, to providing more help to the thousands who are fleeing every month.
Between 2003 and 2005, some 300,000 Iraqis did return home, including from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and other countries. Now, however, the returns have stopped and many more people are fleeing, including large numbers of skilled professionals crucial to Iraq’s recovery.
In addition to those outside the country, more than 1 million Iraqis have fled their homes for other areas inside Iraq since early 2006, most of them following sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of an important Shia mosque in the central Iraqi city of Samarra in February of that year.
The displacement in Iraq is presenting an enormous humanitarian challenge and extreme hardship for both the displaced and the Iraqi families trying to help them in host communities. The enormous scale of the needs, the violence and the difficulties in reaching the displaced make it a problem that is practically beyond the capacity of humanitarian agencies, including UNHCR. And the longer it goes on, the more difficult it gets as both the internally displaced and their host communities in Iraq run out of resources.
Many uprooted Iraqis fleeing to surrounding countries do not initially seek UNHCR help, but rely instead on a social net of friends and relatives which UNHCR worries is rapidly wearing thin, bringing rising social problems among the exiles and occasional friction with host communities.
Since the beginning of 2007, UNHCR has expanded its operations in the region and now has some 300 staff working on the Iraq crisis from offices in the region and in Geneva. The UN refugee agency has registered more than 180,000 Iraqis in countries neighbouring Iraq, 15 percent of whom are in need of special assistance. These include victims of torture. In April 2007, the agency held a major international conference in Geneva to address the humanitarian needs of those displaced by the Iraq conflict and seek more international help for them.
UNHCR is providing support to host countries by rehabilitating and constructing schools, clinics and community centres and through the provision of counselling and special care for the most vulnerable. By mid-August 2007, UNHCR had referred some 12,000 cases of the most vulnerable Iraqis for resettlement in third countries.
The UN refugee agency, which has appealed for US$223 million for its Iraq operations in 2007, is also concerned about the welfare of an estimated 15,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq, including 1,500 stranded in two makeshift camps at the Iraq-Syria border. The Palestinians in Baghdad face threats on a daily basis but cannot leave Iraq. The country’s Christians and other minority communities are also under threat.
****************Compare that [appeal for $223 million — which says nothing about how much they actually have had to work with so far] with this sentence from the NY Times:
“Israel and the United States signed a deal on Thursday to give Israel $30 billion in military aid over the next decade in what officials called a long-term investment in peace.”
You can find a graph with stats on Iraqi refugees in other countries. The U.S. has 6,000 or so. That’s of an estimated 4 million that are displaced.