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Iraqi Refugee Situation Nearing "Humanitarian Crisis"

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U.N. Predicting Humanitarian Crisis of Iraqi refugees; largest Middle East migration since 1948.... 

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
March 27, 2007

Because during the first years of the war in Iraq, the U.S. concentrated on returning Iraqi refugees home rather than providing them food, assistance and relocation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees now says the refugee situation in Iraq and surrounding nations is approaching a "humanitarian crisis."

Emergency camps to host Iraqis fleeing their country could be built if the numbers of Iraqi refugees increase beyond the point where neighboring nations can cope, the U.N. refugee agency said Monday.

Already about two million Iraqis are living under difficult conditions in Syria, Jordan and other countries in the region, and as many as two million may be displaced from their homes inside Iraq, said Radhouane Nouicer the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees' director for the Middle East and North Africa said.

Iraq itself has a total population of about 27 million.

"If the situation continues to deteriorate inside Iraq, and if new and major waves of Iraqis start leaving, we might face a situation whereby borders all around Iraq are closed," he said.

To prevent that, the UNHCR is discussing the creation of protected, U.N. managed refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, effectively separating the refugees from the local population and economy, he said.

"The countries neighboring Iraq would prefer that we establish what they call 'safety zones' inside Iraq," said Mr. Nouicer.

"We do not see any area inside Iraq which is completely safe, so we prefer to drop that option."

Iraqi Refugee parents inside countries near Iraq are afraid to show their documents to local authorities for fear of deportation back to Iraq. This prevents Iraqi refugees from seeking, aid, legal jobs and assistance for themselves and keeps them from seeking medical care and school for their children.

This often results in crime, drug dealing and prostitution.

Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the UNHCR said at least half a million of the Iraqis in Syria and Jordan are children, who have even more pressing needs than their parents and other adults.

"Just think of how many schools those kids need, how many pencils and books, how much health care, inoculations, treatment for disease," Kessler told CBC News Online. "This is an enormous burden on the [neighboring] countries."

Also on Monday, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Middle East met to hold hearings on the Iraqi refugee situation.

Subcommittee chairman Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y. said the number of Iraqi refugees admitted to the United States is "paltry," particularly compared with the 180,000 Vietnamese refugees who were granted U.S. admission during the first eight months after the fall of the Saigon government in 1975.

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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