With up to two million Iraqi refugees living in Syria and Jordan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the UN will boost its aid programmes and increase financial assistance to refugee host countries.
Antonio Guterres, the head of the Geneva-based UN refugee agency, said on Tuesday that Syria and Jordan are facing increasing difficulties as they try to absorb refugees coming out of Iraq almost on a daily basis. UNHCR is also trying to help those displaced within Iraq because of sectarian violence that drives up to 50,000 Iraqis out of their homes every month.
Some of the refugees belong to specific groups that face higher risks unless they receive separate resettlement when living outside of their own country, Guterres told a news conference at UN headquarters in New York, referring to the conflict between Shias and Sunnis.
"We have increased our own capacity to refer the Iraqis for resettlement overseas, 20,000 of them in 2007, and we hope that different resettlement countries will be able to accept them," Guterres said.
UNHCR has been appealing to other countries to accept the Iraqi refugees until they are able to return home in peace. Those resettlement countries would help share the refugee burden with Syria and Jordan, he said.
Guterres said UNHCR is also increasing its presence inside Iraq to try to meet the need of internally displaced Iraqis.
UNHCR signed an agreement with Syria on Monday, providing it with $2.06 million to renovate hospitals, train medical staff and provide new medical equipment, including ambulances. It was the fourth arrangement made by the UN agency in response to the flow of refugees to Syria.
The Iraq war has driven two million Iraqis to take refuge in neighbouring countries since 2003, with 1.4 million of them in Syria and the rest in Jordan, UNHCR said. Another two million Iraqis are internally displaced after having lost their homes in the conflict.
In January, UNHCR appealed for $60 million to help Iraqi refugees and has since continued to urge donor countries to provide humanitarian assistance to the war-torn country.