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Seeking the world’s help for Iraq’s refugees

Bob Moon Feb 14, 2007

Seeking the world’s help for Iraq’s refugees

Bob Moon Feb 14, 2007

BOB MOON: So far, Iraq’s neighbors have been taking in the refugees they can, but as Nancy just mentioned, they’re reaching a breaking point. Syria has been one of the last Arab countries to allow the displaced Iraqis in to stay. But it’s a small country to be absorbing around a million people. And it now says it can take no more.

We turn to the United Nation’s Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, to talk about the situation there. He’s joining us from Washington D.C, where he’s been meeting with members of the Bush administration about the problem.

Hello Mr. Guterres.

ANTONIO GUTERRES: Hello, how are you.

MOON: Great, thank you. You were in Syria last week. Describe the situation there, if you will, with the refugees.

GUTERRES: Well, as you can imagine, we are having a huge displacement problem. About 2 million Iraqis fled the country. But they are concentrated mainly on two countries: Syria and Jordan. And it is true, that for these two countries, this is becoming a very heavy burden. Huge impact in their economies. Prices going up. And then the education services, the health services can no longer cope with such large numbers. And impact in society is always a very worrying one. Security concerns, the perception that the kind of violence that exists in Iraq might spill over. So it is obvious these countries are really under heavy pressure.

And so the only possible way is to have meaningful support, solidarity from the international community. Helping Jordan and Syria to cope with this extremely heavy burden. Recognizing that they have been extremely generous in the past few years, accepting such a large number of Iraqi refugees in their countries.

MOON: Well, that’s why you’re in Washington, to ask the U.S. for help. They’ve agreed to allow 7,000 refugees into the country. But I understand that almost 40,000 leave Iraq every month. Will this gesture by the U.S. really help alleviate the situation at all?

GUTERRES: I think that you need to recognize the need to have two different approaches or contributions. One is, of course, to have resettlement as a solution. Not for the bulk of the refugees that flee from Iraq to neighboring countries, but to very vulnerable situations. Vulnerable situations for which protection concerns cannot be met in the neighboring countries, and that really require resettlement to a third one. I think on the whole of the international community, this is a huge problem. Its dimension is the biggest since the crisis of ’48. And without everyone being engaged, it will be impossible for these countries to sustain their effort and to keep the asylum space open.

MOON: It’s sounding at the moment like this situation is gonna get worse before it gets better. What do expect a month or even a year from now?

GUTERRES: When you deal with refugees all over the world, you’ll find that their main concern is to be able to go back home. What I would wish is, of course, a political solution for Iraq, allowing these people to be able to go back home sooner rather than later. Of course, in the meantime, we have to make sure that we give all possible forms of support to Syria and Jordan to be able to cope with the problem. Let’s hope it will not get worse.

MOON: Antonio Guterres is the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees. You’re running between stops, trying to find some solutions to all this. Thank you for taking some time out for us.

GUTERRES: Thank you very much.

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