Iraq: Violence hampering efforts to tackle IDPs

BAGHDAD, 3 May 2007 (IRIN) - The United Nations Refugees Agency (UNHCR) has welcomed the Iraq government's efforts to tackle internal displacement issues, but analysts say much more needs to be done.

"People are getting displaced on a daily basis, in addition to dozens joining the refugees in neighbouring countries. The funds so far donated to tackle this problem are small. Some communities are preventing displaced families from staying in their areas and others are forcing them to leave because they are afraid that violence will reach their areas [as a result of the influx]," said Professor Moussa Khalil, a specialist on democratisation and humanitarian affairs in the Iraqi Governing Council.

"We appreciate the interest in displacement shown by all, especially by the Iraqi government, but they [the interested parties] cannot meet the requirements as the violence continues to escalate and generate more daily displacements and the need for more money," Khalil added.

Over 800,000 displaced since February 2006

According to the UNHCR, more than 800,000 Iraqis have been displaced since the bombing of an important Shi'a shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006 when sectarian violence escalated. The agency said more than two million Iraqis are also taking refuge in Jordan and Syria and are living in deteriorating conditions.

In a 1 May press release, the UNHCR said it welcomed the commitment by the Iraqi government and the international donor community to address the issue of displacement in Iraq.

The UNHCR press release said the government of Iraq, through its Strategic Review Board, recently approved a US$ 5.5 million project funded by the government of Japan as part of UNHCR humanitarian programmes to provide protection and immediate lifesaving assistance to tens of thousands of vulnerable internally displaced persons (IDPs).

In addition, the European Commission has contributed another US$ 12.8 million through the Iraq Trust Fund to the UNHCR-led consortium of agencies tasked with the delivery of services to IDPs.

The agency, however, said that despite the funding the country's humanitarian needs remain massive and have yet to be met.

Security fears hampering efforts to help IDPs

"A majority of the newly-displaced live in substandard, overcrowded public buildings or rented accommodation with little or no access to running water, sanitation or electricity, and with very limited access to food," the statement said. "Several governorates in Iraq are now turning away IDPs because of security fears and the severe strain the displaced are putting on local resources and services."

"UNHCR's Iraq Operation strongly urges all humanitarian stakeholders to increase support to the numerous national and international organizations assisting Iraq's civilian population through this time of brutal conflict," it added.

Local NGOs have also said that even with improvement in funding, violence will continue to prevent assistance reaching the displaced and those in need.

"We are happy that the international community as well as the Iraqi government have shown interest in helping the displaced families, but the problem will remain if violence isn't controlled or at least, each [warring] party in Iraq understands and accepts that aid workers are neutral and are in the country just to help," said Muhammad Ebn Hussein, a spokesperson for the Baghdad-based Iraqi Humanitarian Association for the Displaced (IHAD).

"Many NGOs have their stores full of supplies but they cannot get access to the displaced families. Others cannot offer medical assistance to thousands of people requiring urgent medical care because they are scared of being targeted," Hussein said.

According to him, a recent survey by local NGOs showed that more than 85 percent of the displaced require medical care and at least 70 percent are suffering from psychological disorders resulting from violence.

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