Syria + 1 more

EU promises to help Syria on Iraqi refugees

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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS, April 29 (Reuters) - The European Union pledged on Sunday to help Syria deal with Iraqi refugees flooding into the country since the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

Officials say 1.2 million Iraqi refugees have crossed into Syria, and their numbers are rising daily, putting pressure on infrastructure and public services.

"I promised the support of the European Commission on the technical level," the EU's aid commissioner Louis Michel said after meeting President Bashar al-Assad.

Damascus has appealed for international help in providing basic services for the refugees.

Michel said the problem was not so much money as mechanisms and staff to spend the funds on projects. The EU will lend diplomatic, logistical and humanitarian expertise to Damascus.

Michel described Syrian treatment of the Iraqis as "very humane", pointing out they can use Syria's subsidised healthcare and education system without restrictions.

Damascus, however, has denied entry to 1,100 Palestinians fleeing Iraq who have taken shelter in camps on the Iraqi-Syrian border. They have been stranded on the border since last year.

"I promised the president to help manage these people better and I proposed to see if we could better organise their life," Michel said.

Syria, which hosts 430,000 Palestinian refugees registered with the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, says other countries in the region, including Israel, should take in a proportion of the Palestinian refugees from Iraq.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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