UNHCR head calls for urgent political solution to Iraq's deepening crisis

News Stories, 18 July 2014

© UNHCR/N.Colt
UN High Commissioner for refugees António Guterres talks with an Iraqi father in Khazair Transit camp in northern Kurdistan who described how he and his family were forced to flee from Mosul

ERBIL, Iraq, 18 July (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned on Friday that Iraq risks "full-fledged sectarian war and complete fragmentation" as Iraqis continue to flee their homes and minority groups are targeted.

Iraqi politicians and the international community are "running out of time to act," he said.

In high-level talks in Baghdad on Wednesday, he urged leaders to move urgently to a political solution and to "seize this last chance to bring everyone together in a non-sectarian approach. Otherwise, we risk a true sectarian war."

The UNHCR head encouraged regional and global governments to provide support. "Countries with influence also need to constructively work towards a solution," he said. "This is a threat to everybody nobody is safe."

Guterres witnessed the dire conditions facing some of the more than 650,000 Iraqis displaced by conflict since January. At the Khazair transit camp, midway between the Iraqi cities of Erbil and Mosul, he walked the dusty paths between some 500 tents provided by UNHCR where Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and others are now living.

A father who fled fighting in Mosul a month ago told Guterres his son had returned to the city last week to check on their house and found it occupied and partly destroyed.

Guterres noted the dramatic impact on the economy and society from the influx of more than 225,000 Syrian refugees and over 300,000 newly displaced Iraqis. He appealed to the international community to "enhance support to the government & people in the Kurdistan region in this very difficult moment."

"The Middle East is in flames," he said. 'Kurdistan represents one of the few stable areas where protection can be granted."

The High Commissioner said a forthcoming $500 million contribution by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will help the UN provide critical humanitarian aid to Iraqis. "Others need to come forward to help Kurdistan cope with this terrible challenge," he said.

On Friday, the High Commissioner travelled to the new Arbat refugee camp in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah, now home to more than 3,000 Syrians who fled the civil war. Of almost three million Syrian refugees, 225,000 are in Iraq. Noting the region's stability, Guterres said "without Kurdistan, many people fleeing would have no place to go."

Guterres' visited Iraq to pay respect to the internally displaced, Syrian refugees and their host communities and show solidarity during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He spoke of his concerns for all Iraqis, especially minorities, who are at risk.

"Everybody needs to be protected," he said. "Everybody seeking access should be given refuge without discrimination. Everybody deserves to be safe."

He praised the commitment by the president and prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to "maintain a policy of open borders and doors to all people in need of help regardless of ethnicity or religion. This attitude of tolerance and openness has an important symbolic meaning at a time when we need to avoid at all cost a sectarian civil war in Iraq."

He was blunt in assessing what UNHCR and the broader humanitarian community can accomplish. "What we do is minimize suffering. There is no humanitarian solution for this tragic humanitarian crisis. There is no way humanitarians can clean up the mess made by politicians. What they really need is peace."

By Edward Colt and Melissa Fleming

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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

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