UN: Iraq biggest Middle East refugee crisis since ’48

From The Guardian, Jan. 9:

One in eight Iraqis have left their homes in what is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948, the UN’s refugee agency said today.

The UNHCR released the figures as it launched an appeal for $60m (£30.8m) in emergency aid for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced” people.

Many people who have left Iraq or moved to other parts of the country have run out of resources or would do soon, the organisation said, leaving them and their host communities increasingly vulnerable.

“There are increasing reports of women forced to resort to prostitution, as well as growing child labour problems,” the UNHCR said. “The appeal includes programmes to identify and register the most vulnerable among the displaced so they can get the support they need.”

The organisation and its partners estimate that, of a total Iraqi population of 26 million, around 1.7 million Iraqis are internally displaced and up to two million people have fled to nearby countries.

Estimates of the numbers of Iraqi refugees in neighbouring states are of between 500,000 and one million in Syria, up to 700,000 in Jordan, up to 80,000 in Egypt and around 40,000 in Lebanon. Turkey has an unknown number of Iraqis.

Many of those in surrounding countries fled before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, but tens of thousands continue to leave every month – particularly to Syria and Jordan – amid escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence.

“The burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous,” the UN high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, said. “It is essential that the international community supports humanitarian efforts to help the most vulnerable people.”

The exodus of Iraqis is putting increasing strain on Iraq’s neighbours, with some unable to provide basic services.

In Syria, around 30% of Iraqi children are not attending school. Four per cent of all Iraqis are disabled, and more than 10% of Iraqi families are headed by women.

UNHCR predicts that there will be up to 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of this year. The organisation estimates that nearly 500,000 Iraqis have already fled some of the most violent areas.

“UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies lack the resources the cope with the growing numbers of displaced and increasingly desperate Iraqis needing help both within and outside their country,” the agency said.

See our last posts on Iraq and the sectarian cleansing.