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US Applauds International Attention to Iraq's Humanitarian Crisis


The top State Department official for refugee issues has praised a conference last week in Geneva on displaced Iraqis, calling it a good starting point for international coordination for assistance. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

Official U.S. estimates count more than four million displaced Iraqis around the world. Nearly half of them are inside Iraq, while more than that have fled to other countries.

These displaced Iraqis were the focus of a major conference in Geneva last week, which brought together representatives from more than 40 countries, international aid agencies and non-governmental organizations.

Ellen Sauerbrey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said conference participants made "concrete proposals" to expand assistance and resettlement efforts.

"Donors showed a willingness to cooperate, to provide further assistance," said Ellen Sauerbrey. "I think the conference was a solid step forward in addressing humanitarian concerns, as well as boosting regional stability."

Syria and Jordan host the largest numbers of Iraqi refugees outside of Iraq. Sauerbrey said this was the only topic of discussion when she met with Syrian officials during a recent trip to the Middle East, as well as more recently.

"During the meeting in Geneva last week, at the request of the Syrians, we did again have a meeting, again to discuss the humanitarian situation and the ways that the United States can be of most assistance," she said.

She added that the United States will increase its assistance programs through Non-governmental organizations and international organizations to help countries hosting Iraqi refugees. Meanwhile, the U.N.High Commissioner for Refugees also is in intensive discussions with Syria and Jordan.

Sauerbrey stressed that, although the United States could accept up to 25,000 Iraqi refugees this year, Washington feels that is not the best long-term solution.

"Resettlement, we know, at best, is only going to address the needs of a small number who are vulnerable," noted Sauerbrey. "So, the focus has got to be continually focused on creating a peaceful, stable Iraq, and that is the most important and fundamental part of U.S. policy, is creating a situation where people will be able to go home, voluntarily, in peace and dignity."

She said the United States has significantly ramped up its capacity to screen refugees, and is trying more quickly to evaluate the cases of what she described as the most vulnerable Iraqis - people who have been targeted specifically for their association with coalition military forces.