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Refugee conference to address plight of Iraqis

Rights group slams UK for not matching U.S. resettlement plan to accept 7,000

Refugee conference to address plight of Iraqis

Rights groups demanded the U.S. and EU take the lead in addressing Iraq's refugee crisis during a U.N. conference that started yesterday - the first global attempt to address a problem that campaigners say threatens to spread throughout the Middle East.
Pressure has been growing on the United States, Britain and other European countries to take in more Iraqi refugees to ease the crisis that is gripping their homeland.
Organizations said Monday that the U.S. and EU must lead the effort during the two-day conference in Geneva, which was expected to gather more than 450 officials from 60 countries, along with Red Cross and other humanitarian workers.
The meeting was called by the U.N. Human Rights Commissioner for Refugees to explore ways of helping the growing numbers of people fleeing Iraq to escape daily suicide bombings, abductions, house evictions and other atrocities that have made Iraq's refugee situation one of the world's worst.
Several million Iraqis have been driven from their homes because of the spiraling violence since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and the years of oppression under Saddam Hussein.
Most refugees have stayed in neighboring Syria and Jordan, placing a strain on both countries by driving up prices of housing and goods and stretching health care and other basic services to the maximum.
"The Middle East is on the verge of a new humanitarian crisis unless the European Union, U.S. and other states take urgent and concrete measures to assist the more than 3 million people forcibly displaced by the conflict in Iraq," London-based rights group Amnesty International said.
Exact figures on the people fleeing their homes are hard to obtain. But UNHCR estimates that around 2 million have gone to neighboring countries, including many uprooted before 2003. In addition, some 1.9 million Iraqis have been displaced within the country, according to the agency.
Amnesty called on governments to set up generous resettlement programs that "should go far beyond token numbers and should constitute a significant part of the solution to the current crisis."
In a separate joint letter with Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Refugee Council, Amnesty indicated the United States had taken a step in the right direction by announcing it would accept up to 7,000 Iraqi refugees for resettlement.
It said the British government also should announce a resettlement program and take the lead in Europe.
"The U.K. has done nothing to allow Iraqi refugees displaced by the conflict the chance to resettle in the U.K. - including people who have shown great loyalty and service to the U.K. in Iraq," said the letter addressed to British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The plight of Iraqi refugees has gone largely unnoticed outside the Middle East, but is becoming increasingly difficult for neighboring countries to bear, UNHCR chief spokesman Ron Redmond told The Associated Press.
The exodus from Iraq continues unabated, with up to 50,000 people fleeing the country every month to escape violence, lack of basic services and livelihood, inflation and uncertainty about their future, UNHCR said.
Some 750,000 Iraqis have ballooned Jordan's 5.5 million population by 14 percent and more than 1 million have fled to Syria.
These refugees have been largely invisible because most have been living with relatives or in rented dwellings rather than refugee camps, Redmond said.
In addition, almost 730,000 Iraqis have been uprooted but have stayed inside Iraq since the beginning of 2006, bringing the number of the so-called "internally displaced" to an estimated 1.9 million, according to the agency.
A key monitoring group warned that the continuing violence in Iraq could permanently alter the country.
"After centuries of cohabitation among different religious and ethnic communities, the current wave of displacements leads to increased separation and could result in a permanent redrawing of the ethnic and religious map of Iraq," said Tomas C. Archer, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which compiles widely accepted global statistics on internal displacement.


Updated : 2021-10-22 23:57 GMT+08:00