UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres addresses journalists after the closing of UNHCR’s two-day international conference on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
GENEVA, April 18 (UNHCR) – An international conference organised by the UN refugee agency to focus on the humanitarian needs of those driven from their homes in Iraq ended on Wednesday with agreement on the urgent need to aid nearly 4 million people who have fled to neighbouring countries or elsewhere inside Iraq … (full text).
Chairman’s Summary, International Conference on Addressing the Humanitarian Needs of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons inside Iraq and in Neighbouring Countries, Geneva, 17-18 April 2007. He says:
I shall now attempt to sum up the main findings and recommendations of this conference focusing on the humanitarian needs of refugees and internally displaced persons inside Iraq and in neighbouring countries. It is a challenge indeed because of the rich debate and the breadth of issues covered.
First, you have analyzed extensively the humanitarian consequences of the security situation in Iraq, including the sectarian violence and conflict, drawing attention to the scale and complexity of the situation. You have underlined the urgency of meeting the humanitarian needs of some 1.9 million internally displaced persons inside Iraq and 2 million refugees abroad, especially of women and children, confirming international recognition of the gravity of the situation.
Second, you have expressed a deep concern about the situation inside Iraq and called for urgent action by the Iraqi Government and all relevant parties in order to find a durable solution based on national reconciliation. Delegations have also stressed the imperative to strengthen measures to avoid displacement and to protect persons in their areas of origin, while enhancing actions to provide humanitarian relief to the displaced. In this regard, you urged respect for fundamental human rights and observance of international humanitarian law.
Third, delegations therefore applauded the positive commitments made by Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari, notably that:
The Government is prepared and fully committed to take the lead in addressing the needs and improving the conditions of all Iraqi people who are internally and externally displaced. In a first phase, a total of 25 million US Dollars has been allocated for this purpose.
The Government will negotiate modalities for assistance to displaced communities, including financial contributions in the key sectors of education and health, so as to support the efforts of UNHCR and host governments, including the Syrian Arab Republic and Jordan.
The Government recognized the urgent humanitarian needs of internally displaced persons and refugees inside Iraq, such as for protection, defence of legal rights and shelter, and undertook to mitigate the burden on host communities. In this regard, the Government recognized the specific vulnerability of Palestinian refugees and undertook to enhance their protection.
The Government will provide displaced Iraqis with appropriate documentation to ensure access to essential services and facilitate travel through the issuance of passports.
Fourth, the conference welcomed the approval of the Strategic Framework for Humanitarian Action in Iraq, devised by the United Nations and partners, emphasizing that it provides an important mechanism for coordinating and expanding humanitarian assistance activities inside Iraq. Many speakers encouraged the United Nations to move forward rapidly with its implementation.
Fifth, regarding those displaced across Iraq’s borders into neighbouring countries, there was unanimous recognition of the heavy and ever growing burden on the Syrian Arab Republic, Jordan and a number of other countries created by the arrival of Iraqis seeking protection. There was deep appreciation for the generosity of host countries.
Sixth, the conference expressed its concern for the situation of refugee groups inside Iraq, especially Palestinians, and urged all parties to take measures to ensure their safety and to find solutions to their plight.
Seventh, there has been broad recognition of the fact that local integration of such large numbers of Iraqis in countries of asylum is not an option, and that resettlement will give priority to the most vulnerable. Everyone emphasized that the preferred solution for the overwhelming majority of Iraqi refugees will be their voluntary return.
However, the conference called upon all host countries, including those further afield, to continue providing protection, humanitarian assistance and hospitality to Iraqis until such time as conditions have been created to enable voluntary return in safety and dignity.
Eighth, all delegations recognized the international community’s obligation to protect and assist Iraqis in need in accordance with the principles of international refugee and humanitarian law, and to help host countries to shoulder their burden. I hope that in the near future these commitments will be translated into financial support to Iraqi displaced and host countries, through bilateral and multilateral channels, and an increase in resettlement opportunities for the most vulnerable.
Effective coordination mechanisms will be needed to follow-up on this conference. Every effort should be made to avoid duplication and the creation of parallel structures. UNHCR stands ready to facilitate full implementation of the above commitments and recommendations and to ensure that this conference is an effective first step in meeting the protection and assistance needs of the displaced in the framework of a coordinated and comprehensive international effort. Rest assured that UNHCR will play its part.
Finally, tribute has been paid by many speakers to the efforts of the Red Crescent and Red Cross Movement, local charitable organizations, civil society, NGOs and national institutions that have been meeting the needs of the victims both inside Iraq and in neighbouring countries. Inside Iraq, their staff, who are working under difficult conditions and often at considerable personal risk, have been the subject of special commendation and recognition.