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Iraq: West 'Failing To Help' Refugees

More than 2 million Iraqis are displaced within their own country (file) (AFP) Amnesty International is accusing Western countries of failing to adequately help Iraqi refugees. The London-based human rights group has just issued a new assessment of the problem – a report entitled "Millions In Flight: The Iraqi Refugee Crisis."  RFE/RL spoke with Nicole Shoueiry, a press officer for Amnesty International, about the key points.

September 24, 2007 (RFE/RL) --

RFE/RL: According to Amnesty's estimates, there are about 4.2 million displaced Iraqis, 2.2 million of them are within Iraq and the rest in Syria and Jordan. According to Amnesty, those numbers increase by an average of 2,000 people a day. Amnesty International has just issued a report urging the West to do more to help Iraqi refugees, but why has the report appeared precisely now?

Shoueiry: It would be fair to say the situation is getting worse by the day and the reason why Amnesty International has chosen to publish this report is because it wanted to bring to the international community's attention the fact that there is still time to deal with this crisis and there is still time to remedy the crisis if the international community took action.

RFE/RL: What is motivating Iraqis to leave their country or to go to other parts of Iraq?

Shoueiry: Obviously this is due mainly to the security situation but also to the fact that many minorities and many people, regardless of their affiliation or maybe because of their religious affiliation, are being targeted by armed groups. There is a lot of kidnapping, there are a lot of threats, people are being threatened every day. People are forced to leave their houses and try to seek shelter.

RFE/RL: Is it still possible to leave Iraq easily, even as the neighboring countries are tightening their borders? And what problems are the refugees facing once they go abroad?

Shoueiry These people, when they decide to flee, they decide to do so at their own risk because we know that the roads [leading] from Iraq itself to either Syria or Jordan are fraught with dangers. So they do it at their own risk. And the majority of these people at the beginning resort to their savings, but they reach a time when they cannot deal with the situation any more. They don't have any more money, they don't have access to their bank accounts and things like that. They depend on the help of the UNHCR [The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees] or on the help of friends. But even the UNHCR is not managing to cope with the influx of the Iraqi refugees.

RFE/RL: The report says the exodus is the biggest population movement in the Middle East since Israel was created in 1948, when Palestinians were displaced. It says some 1.4 million displaced Iraqis are in Syria, with a further 500,000 in Jordan. Both countries are struggling with the problem and restricting their border controls. Amnesty also says that the international community is failing to meet "its moral obligations." What does Amnesty International suggest needs to be done?

"Most use their savings, but they reach a time when they cannot deal with the situation any more. They don't have any more money, they don't have access to their bank accounts."

Shoueiry There are many things that the international [community] can do and should do and many countries, including the United States, have announced a big chunk of aid for the UNHCR, which is overseeing and managing the refugee issue in both Syria and Jordan, but these promises have not materialized.

RFE/RL: Are many Iraqis getting refuge in the West?

Shoueiry There are a few thousands, you know in other countries, including the European countries. But it is very difficult to have a figure, an overall figure, because these people, Iraqi people are fleeing by the day and the numbers are increasing by the day. And it would be correct to say that there are hundreds, maybe a few thousands in many European countries. But the important thing is that the majority are now in Syria and Jordan.

RFE/RL: The report states that the refugee crisis may cause deeper political and economic problems across the region. What problems do you think are most likely to appear?

Shoueiry The Middle East is a region that has enough problems of its own. So another crisis would, or is likely to increase the tension in the region and [would] lead to further instability unless we, as the international community, along with the Iraqi government and the United Nations and host countries in the Middle East start to tackle it and solve it.

Iraq's Refugee Crisis

Iraq's Refugee Crisis

Children at an Iraqi camp for displaced people outside Al-Nasiriyah in May 2006

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