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UNHCR Warns Lack of Money May Force Cutbacks for Iraqi Refugees

  • Lisa Schlein

The UN refugee agency warns it may have to reduce or even suspend a number of aid programs for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees because it has received only about half of the $261 million it needs. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The UN refugee agency says fading international interest in Iraq is having a terrible impact on the nearly five million people who have fled their homes. About half are refugees in neighboring countries. More than two million of them are in Syria and Jordan, straining resources in those countries.

UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says, last month in Syria, nearly 130,000 refugees received food assistance and close to 40,000 received subsidized health care. He says many of them are running out of money and are finding it increasingly difficult to survive amid a dramatic increase in food prices across the region.

He says health programs for one-quarter of a million people are at risk because of cash shortages at the UN agency.

"We have got massive health programs for Iraqis. Those could be drastically reduced," he said. "Some specialized medical care for people with serious or rare diseases, ailments could come to a complete halt. By August, we will not be able to cover all the basic health needs of Iraqis. Many seriously, chronically ill Iraqis will not be able to receive their monthly medications."

Redmond says food aid for tens of thousands of refugees in Syria and Jordan could be cut, forcing many Iraqis into further destitution.

"Instead of being in school, a lot of these children, their families are so impoverished now that the children are forced to work," he said. "You can see them working in the streets, begging in the streets and performing child labor. And, that is another big cause of concern."

Redmond says households headed by women have a particularly difficult time surviving. He says women who are the sole support of their families are often forced to resort to extreme measures such as prostitution.

"The refugee population is especially susceptible to exploitation, particularly when they are not getting the sort of assistance that they require. That is something that we are particularly concerned about," said Redmond.

He says the funding crisis comes as fuel, food and rent costs have risen dramatically.

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