Call for more help for Iraqi refugees

A group of Iraqi non-governmental organisations (NGOs) appealed on 14 July for more support from the Iraqi government, the UN and the international community for Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries.

“There is an obvious violation of the rights of the Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries - mainly Jordan, Syria and Lebanon - as their needs have not been met properly,” said Basil al-Azawi, head of the Iraqi Commission for Civil Society Enterprises, a coalition of over 1,000 Iraqi NGOs inside and outside Iraq.

“Like other international reports, ours has shown clear negligence by the Iraqi government which doesn’t support these refugees properly - either directly by giving them money and/or help in receiving food rations, or indirectly by helping their host countries,” al-Azawi said.

“The UN, for its part, is not putting sufficient pressure on neighbouring countries and international donors to increase their support for the refugees, or press other countries to offer a safe haven to these refugees,” he said.

Al-Azawi blamed what he called the “weak mechanism” adopted by the UN to help these refugees, and expressed concerns about its spending priorities, noting that “huge sums” go on high rents for UN offices and staff salaries.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), at least two million Iraqis are living as refugees of uncertain status in neighbouring countries, mostly Syria and Jordan.

Al-Azawi’s call echoed that made recently by the International Crisis Group (ICG), an international NGO, on the Iraqi government, the UN and the international community to “shoulder their responsibilities”.

ICG report

In its 47-page report issued on 10 July, the ICG ranked Iraq’s refugee crisis the world’s second in terms of numbers, after Afghanistan. It also blamed the international community and the Iraqi government for failing in their responsibilities.

“The refugees have confronted distressing conditions, as savings dwindled, and hosts toughened policies. Host countries must provide adequate services and protection. But donor countries and Iraq bear the greater responsibility to assist both the refugees and the host countries,” the report said.

The report warned that depressed refugees could turn into criminals and that tensions between refugees and host country populations could rise.

“With little to lose and nothing to look forward to, refugees could become radicalised and more violent, and crime, which has already reached worrying levels in host countries, could rise,” it said.

“The principal host countries, whose socio-economic capacities are being stretched, will bear an increasingly costly burden; this, in turn, could exacerbate tensions between host communities and refugee populations,” it said.

Neither the Iraqi government nor the UNHCR in Iraq have so far responded to requests for comment on the ICG report. On 15 June Iraq gave US$8 million to the UNHCR to help the refugees in Jordan.