AMMAN: The plight of four million Iraqis forced to flee their homes by escalating violence has become a humanitarian disaster , the head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Wednesday. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said the international community had to do much more to help ease the plight of Iraqis, either displaced or fleeing the country, beyond modest efforts so far. When you have almost four million people displaced inside the country or in countries around… we are facing a humanitarian disaster, he told Reuters in an interview in Amman, the Jordanian capital. Guterres is on a week-long trip to the region to the Middle East to marshal funds for the agency s $60 million appeal.
Out of Iraq s population of 26 million, some 1.8 million Iraqis are uprooted within its borders, including an estimated 640,000 in the past year, according to latest UNHCR figures. A total of 2 million Iraqis have fled to nearby countries or beyond over recent years. Besides Jordan and Syria, many have gone to Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Iran. U.N aid officials say many donor countries, including the United States which invaded Iraq in 2003, have been reluctant to face up to a regional Iraqi refugee crisis that could be seen as an admission of failure of post-war policies. But aid officials say the intensifying violence is slowly shifting attention to the extent of the crisis that appears beyond the Iraqi authorities ability to handle.
I don t think there is enough awareness . I think we need to recognize that we really feel we are all overwhelmed by the dimensions of the problem, Guterres said. Escalating sectarian violence and lawlessness in the last few months has sparked an unprecedented movement of Iraqis fleeing their homes, either to safer havens inside the country or outside their homeland. Countries such as Jordan and Syria that have accepted more than 1.2 million Iraqis in the last few years should be helped to cope by a major donor campaign that includes financial aid and other forms of assistance, Guterres said. UN officials say Iraqis in Jordan and Syria face increasing difficulties in enrolling their children in overcrowded schools, getting access to basic services including health care, and extending their residency. They are having huge strains in their infrastructure, in their health services, in their educational systems, we need to help them cope with this massive challenge, Guterres said.