Iraqi Refugees a Relief Problem for Neighbors
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We've been hearing how Iraq's neighbors are struggling to cope with the wave of refugees - more than a million Iraqi refugees are in Damascus, Syria, with 30,000 more arriving each month. In Jordan, Iraqi refugees are now one-fifth of the population. With international aid budget stretched by mass exodus, neighboring countries are waiting for the Iraqi government to honor pledges to help.
NPR's Deborah Amos reports.
DEBORAH AMOS: Philip Nazo(ph) makes sure his family is well-dressed and polite when he comes to sign up at the United Nations refugee office in Damascus. At home in Iraq, he was a petroleum engineer. Now he works illegally in menial jobs, barely able to feed his family. But he says he has no plans to go back home anytime soon.
Mr. PHILIP NAZO (Iraqi Refugee in Jordan): We are using (unintelligible) money we get all of my life.
AMOS: So your savings?
Mr. NAZO: And it is going to finish.
AMOS: Then what?
Mr. NAZO: I don't know. God help us.
AMOS: Money is also a problem for aid agencies here. Only a quarter of the $60 million allocated by the U.N. for Iraqi refugees goes to Syria. The U.N. representative in Damascus says he needs more cash. The Iraqi government pledged $25 million at a conference in the spring, but the money hasn't arrived says Laurens Jolles, the Damascus representative of the U.N. high commissioner.
Mr. LAURENS JOLLES (Damascus Representative, U.N. High Commissioner): To my knowledge, there have been no significant talks on that yet. And I know that at least some of the host governments are waiting for that. But to date, that has not happened.
AMOS: A team from Iraq's Red Crescent Society has stepped up visits to Iraq's neighbors to help deal with the crisis as another wave of refugees arrive. Dr. Said Hakki, who heads Iraq's Red Crescent, says increases are a result of the U.S. military's new security plan in Baghdad.
Dr. SAID HAKKI (President, Iraqi Red Crescent Society): Let's put it this way. We hoped when the new security plan was going to be in place, we will see at least decrease in that number, or, more optimistically, leveling. That's not happening.
AMOS: The Red Crescent delegation gathers data on Iraqi refugees. Dr. Hakki is chagrin that his team has been drawn into Iraq's sectarian divides. He says one is a Kurd, another is Shiite, and there's a Sunni. So they are able to talk to every Iraqi community, as well as the Iraqi government. In the last few weeks, Dr. Hakki says they have negotiated an agreement with Jordan and Syria to allow deliveries of food parcels - 40,000 a month in Syria and 10,000 a month in Jordan. This would help alleviate immediate suffering, says Dr. Jamal Karbouli, a member of the Red Crescent team.
Dr. JAMAL KARBOULI (Vice President, Red Crescent Society): We agreed to start with the food faster. It's in the warehouse, but the government of Iraqi has not moved yet.
AMOS: Frustrated with the government's failure to respond, Dr. Adnan Ali, also part of this group, says it's a missed opportunity. The Iraqi government can afford to look after its people, he insists, and must convince those who have fled Iraq that the government represents them, too.
Dr. ADNAN ALI (Member, Red Crescent Society): They would not feel they are begging anybody. They will feel that a part of their community is taking care of them.
AMOS: But so far, plans and money are on hold, says Dr. Hakki.
Dr. HAKKI: Their people are suffering. We need the help. I mean, even the Iraqi government will move faster if somebody comes from Washington and says say, listen, Charlie. Your people are not getting what they're supposed to get. This is a global problem, and has to be addressed that way.
AMOS: It's a growing crisis, he says - one that could destabilize the region.
Deborah Amos, NPR News, Damascus.
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