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|Iraqi Refugees: Donor Governments Must Provide Bilateral Assistance to Host Countries (.pdf)||77.23 KB|
Iraqis are now the third largest displaced population in the world, after Palestinians and Sudanese. Their number will likely continue to grow as violence in Iraq shows no signs of diminishing.
Estimates identify 2.5 million refugees, with Syria and Jordan, two countries with sizeable Palestinian populations as well, hosting the vast majority. Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, and Turkey have also received significant flows of Iraqi refugees. In host countries, school systems, medical services, water supplies, sanitation infrastructure, and housing stock are now stretched to the limit. Despite the increased international awareness of the Iraqi displacement crisis, adequate resources to address the true scope of refugees’ needs have yet to materialize.
Syria is now host to one and a half million Iraqi refugees. It has shown interest in working with the international community to address the needs of this population. Iraqi children are encouraged to attend Syrian schools, and the government hopes to enroll up to 100,000 Iraqi children in time for fall classes. Iraqis are also being provided primary medical services, and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society has expanded the number of clinics it operates solely for Iraqis to ten to meet increased demand.
Despite these positive steps forward, many Iraqis still can not access basic services, as the population is growing too fast for Syria to adequately respond to all needs. Moreover, the Syrian government is not currently able to offer specialized medical care to Iraqis for problems such as cancer and heart disease. The International Committee of the Red Cross is concerned about the inability of the current water system to provide clean water in neighborhoods where Iraqis live because of the growing numbers. In these areas, residents now have to buy their water, which has a detrimental impact on both their health and finances. And a lack of housing continues to increase rents in urban areas, forcing many Iraqis out of Damascus, placing them further away from vital services.
Jordan currently hosts an Iraqi refugee population that may be as high as 750,000 people. Though the government has been hesitant to offer Iraqis access to basic services, there are new positive developments that should be supported. In June, the government agreed to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) request to allow documented Iraqi children access to schooling, and it has plans to enroll up to 50,000 Iraqis in the domestic school system. Though no similar accords exist in other sectors, conversations have begun to expand health care to Iraqis.
Similar to Syria, the Jordanian government is not able to expand services to Iraqis on a sufficient scale to adequately address the need. School services, though expanding to educate some Iraqis, will only reach a fraction of Iraqi refugee children. Health care, including access to prescription medication, continues to be a top priority for Iraqis, and specialized care is again in need of serious funding. Water resources in Jordan – one of the most water-poor nations in the world – are being stretched to their limit, and could present serious challenges. As in Syria, Iraqis are moving further away from Amman in search of affordable housing, again making it more difficult for them to access the services that do exist.
In April of this year, UNHCR sponsored a conference in Geneva to raise awareness of the Iraqi refugee crisis. While the rhetorical flourishes of donor representatives at the conference apparently signified that their concern was finally rising to an appropriate level, donor governments have not responded with adequate action to address the needs discussed in Geneva.
The majority of assistance that Iraqis receive is coming from host country governments. The national education, health, water, and sanitation systems of host countries are facing the challenge of meeting the needs of a rapidly expanding refugee population, and it is therefore the government agencies that provide these services that are in most need of international support.
For Iraqi refugee programs, bilateral assistance to Jordan and Syria, much less to smaller hosts such as Lebanon and Egypt, is virtually non-existent. To date, the only bilateral assistance to Syria has come from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in the form of one million dollars. UNHCR has acted as a conduit for some direct aid to the Syrian government as well, with agreements for close to ten million dollars for health and education, and is also providing some assistance to the government in the form of equipment. Syria is still clearly bearing the brunt of paying for these services alone.
Jordan has begun to enter agreements with the US government to support the Ministry of Education, but again, the dollar amounts are tiny in comparison to the need – approximately $18 million earmarked for Iraqi refugees. UNHCR has provided no direct support to the government, and no other international donors are providing bilateral support.
While bilateral assistance is slow in coming, the governments of Syria and Jordan are actively working to develop plans to address the needs of Iraqis, and have also begun to detail the costs of these plans. The government of Syria now has multi-year planning documents for the provision of health and education services to Iraqis, and is in conversations with European firms to expand the capacity of its water and sanitation systems. Jordan has developed a plan for education for the next year, and their Ministry of Health has begun conversations with UNHCR and the World Health Organization to develop plans for health access for Iraqis. Costs for these plans are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and reflect the reality that governments, and not the United Nations or international NGOs, will have to address the needs of Iraqi refugees.
Funding for UNHCR is the one area where international donors have responded quickly – it expects to fully fund its 2007 budget of $123 million. However, a common $129 million appeal by UNHCR and UNICEF to improve education for Iraqi refugee children is still not fully funded.
Providing bilateral assistance to the governments of Jordan and Syria, as well as to other countries hosting Iraqis, should be the top priority of the international community. The United States has shown a willingness to compensate Jordan in the past for the effects of instability in Iraq with large grants of bilateral aid, most notably a 2003 assistance package totaling $700 million, which was provided to “help Jordan offset the economic dislocation it faces due to the conflict in Iraq.” The US must now increase its assistance to Jordan, and expand it to other countries in the region that are hosting Iraqis. Other Western governments, and especially countries that have participated in the Iraq war such as Great Britain, Australia, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Japan, have been unacceptably detached from the refugee crisis, and have an obligation to respond with bilateral assistance to host countries. Arab governments, especially US allies in the Gulf, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, should also respond, as the situation in their region will only deteriorate without this help.
Iraq must take a proactive role in contributing to the basic needs of its citizens who have fled violence at home. Despite the effects of the war, Iraq continues to be a resource-rich country, and should use those resources to help refugees living in Syria and Jordan, as well as other host countries. The international community, the US in particular, should encourage Iraq to provide direct assistance to its neighbors.
Donor governments should coordinate bilateral assistance to Jordan and Syria to provide a comprehensive package of financial support. These plans must also be developed in close consultation with host governments, which should conduct a complete review of needs, ministry by ministry. A framework for regular, high-level discussions will need to be developed to facilitate this entire process.
Advocates Kristele Younes and Sean Garcia, joined by Assistant Director of Development Sara Fusco, just returned from Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon.
This article was originally released on July 16, 2007 and was updated in September to reflect recent changes.