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OIM: Iraqis Running Out of Safe Havens

  • Lisa Schlein

The International Organization for Migration says Iraqis are running out of safe havens as more provinces within the country, as well as neighboring countries, are closing their doors to those fleeing violence. The organization says Iraq is experiencing the worst displacement crisis in its history and the worst refugee crisis the region has seen since 1948. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from IOM headquarters in Geneva.

The International Organization for Migration says more than 2.25 million people are displaced within Iraq and another two million Iraqis have sought refuge in other countries, most in neighboring Syria and Jordan.

The International Organization for Migration says most Iraqis are fleeing their homes because of sectarian violence carried out by militias and insurgents. It says 88 percent of the displaced say they were targeted because of their religious or sectarian identity.

IOM displacement specialist in Amman, Dana Graber Ladek, says Iraqis are fleeing their homes because they fear for their lives.

"Those who have been able to leave the country have," she said. "However, as you might have heard, both Syria and Jordan have officially stated that they will soon impose visa requirements. And, there are fewer and fewer places for the Iraqis to flee because within the country the majority of the provinces have restricted either the entry of the newly displaced or the registration by the Ministry of Displacement and Migration."

Ladek says 10 of the 18 governorates are closing their doors to the newly displaced. She also says people who are not registered miss out on services, such as help in getting their children into school or assistance in transferring their food ration cards.

She says the U.S.-led surge against insurgents has not affected the number of displacements. An average of 60,000 people are fleeing their homes every month.

She says the number of displacements in Anbar Province, in western Iraq, decreased during the first two weeks of this month. But, the numbers are, once again, rising. She says part of the reason has to do with the assassination, earlier this month, of the Sunni tribal leader Abdul Sattar Abu Risha. He had sided with Iraqi and U.S. troops in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq.

"Recently, we are seeing new waves of displacement out of Fallujah due to the mass arrests that are occurring by the Multi-National Forces and Iraqi police after the killing of the leader of the Anbar Rescue Coalition Tribal Committee," she said.

Ladek says the greatest needs are for food, shelter and employment. She says more than 80 percent of the internally displaced report difficulty in receiving government distributed food rations.

She says the governorates are overcrowded. Apartments are squalid, and rents are high. She says health care is deteriorating because many medical professionals have left the country and medicine and equipment are lacking.

The International Organization for Migration also blames the current crisis on a lack of humanitarian support from the international community. It says it has received only 20 percent of its $85 million appeal for the next two years.