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UNHCR, Syria Agree to Help Iraqi Refugees


The U.N. refugee agency says it has signed an agreement with Syria to help the country cope with the health and education needs of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva that the agency says up to 50,000 Iraqis continue to flee their homes every month.

Under the agreement, the U.N. refugee agency will give the Syrian Ministry of Health more than $2 million to rehabilitate public hospitals in the capital Damascus. The money also will be used to build up medical staff and provide new medical equipment.

This is in addition to 11 ambulances the UNHCR is delivering to the Ministry of Health, Syrian Red Crescent and the Palestinian Red Crescent.

This is the fourth agreement between the agency and Syrian government since the beginning of the year.

UNHCR spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis says the aim is to support refugee health and educational needs.

"In total, we have given about $9.6 million or had agreements to that level with various groups and the government in Syria to rehabilitate schools so kids can get to school, they can get an education and to help with textbooks so they can go to school well-equipped," she said.

"Obviously the health sector is extremely important. So, we are supporting health clinics. These are the things and areas where I expect that we are going to continue to need much more help as the needs grow because Iraqi refugees continue to flow out of the country," she continued.

Syria and Jordan are hosting more than two million refugees fleeing violence in Iraq. Both countries are overstretched and unable to cope.

Last month, the UNHCR held a conference to create international support and protection for Iraqi refugees. Pagonis says the conference succeeded in raising awareness of the humanitarian crisis in the region. She says governments have promised not to deport Iraqi asylum seekers.

"We, of course, recognize that some countries like Syria and Jordan because they border Iraq have got legitimate security concerns that need to be taken into account," said Pagonis.

"But, these people in Iraq are fleeing terrible violence. Many of them have been targeted. Relatives have been killed. We really ask all countries to keep their doors open to them," she added.

UNHCR spokeswoman Pagonis says earlier this year, the agency set up a new registration center for Iraqi refugees in Douma, 15 kilometers from Damascus. So far, nearly 78,000 refugees have been registered.

During registration, she says, the most vulnerable Iraqis are identified for medical assistance, community services and resettlement. She says resettlement is reserved for those Iraqis who can never go home because their lives may be in danger.

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