War in Iraq could cause 600,000 to flee to neighbouring countries

Athens (dpa) - More than 600,000 Iraqis could be forced to flee to neighbouring countries if a war breaks out, costing the international community 60 million U.S. dollars, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said Friday.
"We must be prepared to handle the large number of refugees and I have no doubt that this will be a major humanitarian crisis,'' said Lubbers following talks with Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose country currently holds the six-month European Union presidency.

Lubbers said the international agency had already begun talks with Iraqi neighbours such as Iran, Turkey, Syria and Jordan, which would host the bulk of the refugees.

The refugee agency has appealed to the international community for money, estimating that 60 million dollars will be needed immediately. The United States has pledged 15 million dollars.

"This has to be a joint effort that requires international support, especially that of the European Union,'' said Lubbers.

Lubbers said that while Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, the crisis must not be handled with the use of military force.

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