Iraqi refugee problem must not be ignored

Gonzalo Vargas Llosa [Senior Policy Adviser, Advocacy & Communications, UNHCR office in New York]: "I think that there are three important points to underline [regarding the increasing number of Iraqi refugees].

First of all, the enormity of the problem of displacement of Iraqis: today, close to two million uprooted within Iraq itself, with little or no resources of their own left, and at the same time, major security problems faced by the international community to deliver relief aid. And another two million who have escaped to neighbouring countries, mainly Jordan and Syria. This huge problem has so far been largely ignored - and it must no longer be.

Secondly, the key to resolving the problem of displacement of Iraqis, of course, is a political solution that will reduce and hopefully end the violence, and enable people to go back home in safety - but this evidently falls outside the mandate of UNHCR. In the meantime, however, what is urgent is to address the enormous needs of the close to four million uprooted - inside and outside Iraq. This requires increased funding - including for the recent donor appeal for 2007 launched by UNHCR last month, to which the USA has pledged US$ 18 million - but also a more coordinated and effective approach to the problem by all stakeholders: Governments, donors, international organizations, etc. A major challenge here will be to provide more support to Jordan and Syria, which have been hosting very large numbers of Iraqis at great cost. In this context, the initiative taken by UNHCR to help organize an international Conference on Iraqi displacement on 17-18 April in Geneva, and which will bring all these relevant actors together, is critical.

And thirdly, the resettlement of Iraqis with special needs - be it those who run high security risks because they are associated with the USA side for instance - but also vulnerable women and children, is important. UNHCR is planning to process some 20,000 such cases in 2007 and we welcome the pledge by the USA to take in some 7,000 Iraqis in the current fiscal year. We will all need to act with speed and will need to be able to count on the necessary resources to achieve this target, as the resettlement process is a complex one: setting the right criteria, screening, interviewing, and then eventually transferring them to a third country - including the USA. While evidently this option only provides a solution to a very small number of those uprooted, it is nevertheless a crucial one, because it benefits those who are often the most needy and exposed."

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