Refugees International urges UN Secretary General to designate UNHCR to respond to IDPs in Iraq

Refugees International President Ken Bacon today wrote to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urging him to designate the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as the lead UN agency to respond to the needs of internally displaced Iraqis in the event of war. UN estimates of possible war-related displacement have risen to three million, one million in Kurdish areas in the north and two million in southern and central parts of the country. Current UN planning calls for the UN Office of Project Services (UNOPS) to respond to IDP needs in the north, and the International Organization for Migration to respond in central and southern areas. RI, however, believes UNHCR is best suited to respond to IDP needs because of their protection mandate and their prior experience in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
The RI letter to Mr. Annan follows:

March 14, 2003

Mr. Kofi Annan
Secretary General
The United Nations, Room 3800
New York, NY 10017

By Facsimile

Dear Mr. Secretary General:

United Nations officials meeting in Larnaca earlier this month increased their estimates for the number of internally displaced people in Iraq, should a war occur. Now the UN estimates that a war could produce as many as 3 million IDPs in Iraq, with 1 million in the Kurdish areas and 2 million in the rest of the country.

Who will protect these IDPs? The United Nations is the only institution that has the mandate and capacity to provide protection, and within the UN, only the High Commissioner for Refugees has the experience, staff and operational capability to perform this job. Therefore, Refugees International calls on you to make UNHCR the lead agency for IDPs in Iraq.

Current plans split responsibility for IDPs between the UN Office for Project Services in the North and the International Organization for Migration in the rest of the country. Unfortunately, neither agency has a protection mandate, and neither will be able to provide the full range of services that IDPs will need.

The UNHCR has proven its ability to deal with IDPs in Iraq in 1991, in Kosovo and in Afghanistan. Within its current funding limitations, the UNHCR has made extensive preparations to care for 600,000 refugees from Iraq, in case of war. An early designation as the lead agency for IDP protection in Iraq will give the UNHCR time to prepare for this task as well.

This action would in no way relieve the United States of its obligations to care for the Iraqi people under the Fourth Geneva Convention.


Kenneth H. Bacon