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UN Calls for Greater Assistance for Displaced Iraqis


The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, is calling for a greater effort by the international community to help millions of Iraqis uprooted by the war. Guterres made his call at a conference in Geneva, hosted by the UNHCR, to raise awareness of the plight of nearly 4 million refugees and displaced people in Iraq and surrounding countries. More than 450 people from over 60 countries are attending the conference. Lisa Schlein has more for VOA from Geneva.

In this video clip, a few Iraqi refugees, with their faces carefully disguised, speak about the fear, the persecution, and the sense of hopelessness that forced them to flee to other countries. They tell heartrending stories about family members they had to leave behind. They talk about the sectarian violence that separates Sunnis and Shi'ites who formerly had lived together in peace. They say life as a refugee is very hard and they wish they could go home.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres says Iraq is probably the best-known conflict on the globe, but not enough attention has been paid to the humanitarian crisis. He says that dimension of the problem can no longer be overlooked.

“It is the most significant displacement in the Middle East since the dramatic events of 1948,” he said. “One in eight Iraqis have been driven from their homes. Some 1.9 million are currently displaced inside the country and up to 2 million others have fled abroad."

Guterres notes many Iraqis were displaced prior to the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. And in the two years following the U.S.-led invasion, he says more than 300,000 Iraqis returned home to begin rebuilding their lives. But he says this trend was dramatically reversed after the bombing of a famous Shi'ite mosque in Samarra in February 2006. Now, he says, up to 50,000 Iraqis a month are fleeing their homes.

"If this massive displacement has gone largely unnoticed, it is in part because most of those fleeing are not going to highly visible camps, but are being absorbed by host communities, in Iraq and in neighboring states,” he added. “It is the biggest urban caseload ever dealt with."

Guterres notes most of the Iraqi refugees have gone to Syria and Jordan, which can no longer cope with these numbers. He says they need international support. He says ultimately only a political solution will resolve Iraq's tragic situation.

In the meantime, Guterres says, borders must be kept open so Iraqis seeking

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