BAGHDAD -- The heads of the UN organizations responsible for refugee protection and food assistance visited the Iraqi capital today amid a growing exodus of Syrians into the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Iraq, which faces major security challenges and a vast population of 1.1 million internally displaced citizens, is host to some 200,000 Syrians. In the last two weeks alone, 46,000 Syrians crossed the border.
UNHCR chief António Guterres and Executive Director of the World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin expressed their appreciation to Iraq for welcoming fleeing Syrians and working with UN organizations to address their basic needs.
“With the escalation of this conflict, Syria could be on the edge of an abyss. This war has resulted in a humanitarian calamity without parallel in recent history,” Mr. Guterres said. “When a war sweeps up a nation, there can be nothing more important to its people than open borders.” Mr. Guterres urged all neighboring countries to ensure access to territory to all Syrians forced to flee.
“Enough,” Ms. Cousin said, “now is the time for the global community to come together to ensure the violence ends and the healing begins. The children of Syria are depending on us not just to meet their needs today but to provide hope for a better tomorrow.”
Mr. Guterres and Ms. Cousin met senior Iraqi officials, including Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Minister of Displacement and Migration Dindar Najman Shafeed. The officials expressed their concern about meeting the needs of rising numbers of refugees as well as security problems and worry that the conflict could spread.
As the conflict continues unabated, the UN officials noted that the costs of the humanitarian response are escalating and funding is short. While expressing appreciation for the generosity of international donors, they called on donors to recognize the funding needs to assist the growing numbers of Syrian refugees in Iraq. Mr. Guterres thanked the Government of Iraq for its generous support and for a $10 million donation announced today for UNHCR’s response.
The officials noted that the presence of thousands of refugees creates a tremendous stress on communities where most refugees live. They pledged to actively engage development actors to help host communities so their infrastructure is bolstered and their burden is eased.
Ms. Cousin noted that in Iraq food assistance is provided to refugees primarily through a voucher – a food delivery mechanism that allows refugees to purchase groceries in local shops.
“A WFP voucher gives refugees the ability to access the food available, support the local economy and makes them feel more welcome by the local community,” said Ms. Cousin. She noted that food is readily available in the Kurdistan region but that refugees lack the means to feed themselves without humanitarian assistance.
The two UN officials will proceed tomorrow to Northern Iraq to visit refugee camps sheltering thousands of Syrians.
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About WFP: WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Last year, WFP reached more than 97 million people in 80 countries with food assistance.
About UNHCR: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the UN refugee agency, was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. In more than six decades, the agency has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives.
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