UN agency seeking twice annual Iraq amount
GENEVA – The U.N. refugee agency is doubling its annual appeal for funds to help Iraqis fleeing their homes to $123 million from $60 million, officials said Thursday.The money is needed to help some 2 million internally displaced Iraqis and 2.2 million more who have fled abroad, the agency’s director for the Middle East and North Africa said.”The massive displacement of Iraqis, internally and externally, continues unabated, causing a great deal of suffering and uncertainty among the affected populations,” said Radhouane Nouicer of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.The United States immediately announced it would contribute $19 million on top of $18 million already given to UNHCR. That takes Washington’s total aid spending on displaced Iraqis and refugees to more than $153 million this year, said Mark Storella of the U.S. mission in Geneva.According to the refugee agency, thousands of Iraqis continue to stream across the border daily, and the Iraqi refugee population in Syria alone is growing by about 30,000 a month, placing a severe strain on the country’s education, health and housing infrastructure.Nouicer said the international response to UNHCR’s initial appeal had been generous and swift, with donors giving $66 million, surpassing the requested amount. But much more is needed to help refugees and those hosting them, he said.”Syria and Jordan have demonstrated a great deal of generosity and a high level of patience. They need to be supported to maintain their hospitable attitude,” Nouicer said.He said the additional money would be used to provide Iraqis with shelter, household support, food, health, education and counseling.UNHCR plans to resettle 25,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees by the end of the year. To date, the agency has submitted 10,200 requests to possible host countries – 8,000 of them to the United States.The U.S. has promised to admit 7,000 Iraqi refugees referred to it by UNHCR for this fiscal year, which ends in September. But as of June 30 it had allowed in around 133. The Bush administration, which has been criticized for not moving fast enough to help Iraqi refugees, has said the slow pace was due to enhanced security checks.Nouicer said UNHCR was carefully checking the background of potential resettlement candidates to make sure none of them posed a security risk to their future host country.”Among the people we are screening every day, we do have many, many excludable cases that are being put aside. It’s part of our daily job,” he said.