‘The current exodus is the largest population movement in the Middle East since Palestinians were displaced following the creation of the State of Israel in 1948,’ the UN High Commission for Refugees has said.
In a report released on Monday, along with a 60 million dollar appeal to the International Community, the UNHCR said: ‘Around one in eight Iraqis is displaced’.
The report says that out of Iraq’s 26 million population, two million have fled the country and nearly two million are internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The report states: ‘UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies lack the resources to cope with the growing numbers of displaced and increasingly desperate Iraqis needing help both within and outside their country.
‘UNHCR operates inside Iraq as part of the UN Country Team (UNCT), composed of 16 UN Agencies and Programmes and two affiliated bodies, the IOM (International Organisation for Migration) and the World Bank. . . .
‘In 2007, activities in neighbouring states will be expanded accordingly to take into account the huge number of Iraqis believed to have sought asylum. . . .
‘Since 19 March 2003, UNHCR has advocated recognition of the need for international protection of Iraqis and thus called for a halt to forced returns. . . .
‘UNHCR estimates there were 1.7 million Iraqis displaced internally by end-2006.
‘While many were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers are fleeing the escalating sectarian, ethnic and generalized violence.
‘UNHCR believes that in 2006 some 500,000 Iraqis fled their homes for other areas inside Iraq and that internal displacement is continuing at a rate of some 40,000 to 50,000 a month.
‘Insecurity inside Iraq limits access to many vulnerable displaced groups, but qualitative and quantitative data from a wide range of government agencies, research institutes, NGOs and UNCT agencies and IOM point to a deteriorating situation throughout the country, with the possible exception of the three northern governorates. . . .
‘Priority assistance needs are food and non-food items, shelter and access to water and sanitation.
‘Protection of displaced persons is an immediate and growing concern, not least because of delays in the transfer of food ration cards, inability to provide various documents and establish new registration procedures in receiving governorates, which in turn limits access to basic services.
‘Large numbers of Iraqi refugees are poor and live in low-income areas.
‘There are reports of women and young girls forced to resort to prostitution or survival sex and children forced into labour or other forms of exploitation in order to survive.
‘A joint UN assessment in Syria indicated that some 30 per cent of Iraqi children were not attending school (and where they were attending, the schools had few resources such as textbooks, chairs and stationery), four per cent of all Iraqis were disabled.
‘These trends are also indicated by the Brookings Institution’s “Iraq Displacement Report” and its Iraq Index, which includes a host of baseline indicators illustrating the level of violence and the deteriorating socio-economic situation in the country.
‘This situation has been deteriorating further as the violence escalates, refugee flight continues and the coping mechanisms for refugees and the communities that host them are depleted. . . .
‘In 2007, UNHCR will promote durable solutions for refugees within Iraq according to available options as well as their expressed preference.
‘Certain refugee groups particularly targeted by militias will be given priority for resettlement.
‘Other refugees have expressed an intention to return to their countries of origin, namely Iran, Turkey and Syria, provided that sufficient guarantees regarding their protection upon return are obtained.
‘For refugees remaining inside Iraq, and where feasible principally in the three northern governorates, UNHCR will promote self-reliance through the provision of income generation activities, vocational training and shelter support.
‘Subject to gaining access, UNHCR will seek to mitigate the increasingly harsh conditions faced by Iraq’s growing displaced population, through direct humanitarian support and support to their host communities.
‘The exhaustion of resources as populations continue to flee, is generating fresh displacement and leading to escalating tension.
‘Basic assistance will be provided to individuals and groups to supplement strained resources; including emergency shelter to IDPs, extension, rehabilitation or repair of host family homes, quick-impact improvements to community infrastructure and public services and support for IDPs and vulnerable host community members.
‘Activities will be coordinated, taking into account local feasibility and needs while seeking to diffuse local tensions and conflict.
‘In light of the particular protection concerns of IDPs, and complementary to the protection provided by the Government of Iraq, UNHCR will continue monitoring and assessing the situation of IDPs.
‘It will expand the capacity of its network of Legal Aid and Information Centres through additional offices, mobile teams, technical support and staff training, toward both direct assistance (on matters including re-issuance of lost identity documentation, civil status and birth and marriage certificates) and advocacy on behalf of IDPs and others of concern with relevant stakeholders. . . .
‘Registration as a means of identifying the most vulnerable Iraqis will be a priority component of this revised protection strategy, in particular in the countries in the immediate region.
‘The purpose of registration will be to identify people with special protection and/or humanitarian needs that cannot be addressed under the protection regime available in the host country. . . .
‘Across-the-board individual status determination for hundreds of thousands of people is not feasible, unnecessary and strategically undesirable. . . .
‘Given the massive internal displacement which could reach some 2.3 million by the end of 2007 based on recent trends (or even 2.7 million depending on the scale of violence), UNHCR’s intervention and subsequent impact will be focused on the most extremely vulnerable in areas where the agency and its partners can secure access.
‘Expectations must be realistic that the impact of UNHCR’s intervention will be relatively limited with the overall objective of supporting the intervention of central, regional and local authorities in the provision of protection and assistance to the displaced. . . .
‘Reports are increasing that the “saturation” point has already been reached in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, with host communities and authorities, who are already struggling to provide basic services and amenities to their own populations, being frustrated by the unrelenting tide of Iraqi refugees. . . .
‘Incessant violence in which every segment of society has been targeted and which is estimated to claim the lives of some 100 Iraqis per day limits the ability of agencies to operate effectively in the country. . . .
‘It must be acknowledged that due to the limited access and the politicized nature of internal and external displacement it is impossible to estimate accurately the actual number of displaced Iraqis. . . .
‘In responding to Iraqi displacement the international community must also recognise the continuing anxiety and focus of the Arab world with regard to the millions of Palestinians they continue to host. . . .’