U.N. Decries Neglect of Iraqi Refugees

By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 7, 2007

BAGHDAD, July 6 -- U.N. refugee officials on Friday accused donor countries of neglecting the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Iraq flooding into neighboring Syria and Jordan.

"It is unconscionable that generous host countries be left on their own to deal with such a huge crisis," Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters in Geneva.

In April, the United States and other Western countries pledged financial help for Iraqis fleeing violence and chaos. But even as the number of refugees in Syria and Jordan swells to more than 2 million, aid has been minimal. So far, donations total $70 million, with an additional $10 million in pledges. But hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to cope with the crisis, U.N. officials said.

"The two countries caring for the biggest proportion of Iraqi refugees -- Syria and Jordan -- have still received next to nothing in bilateral help from the world community," Redmond said. "The growing refugee population and the communities that host them are facing enormous hardships that will only get worse if the international community doesn't put its money where its mouth is."

Sweden, which has provided safe haven to more Iraqi refugees than the United States and other European countries, announced Friday that it would make it more difficult for Iraqis to seek asylum and would deport by force any denied refuge.

Sweden has provided shelter to more than 18,000 Iraqis since 2006. In contrast, the United States has given refuge to fewer than 800 Iraqis since 2003, according to State Department figures.

"Sweden used to be positively unique. Now they've joined the rest of the gang," Bjarte Vandvik, secretary general of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, told the Associated Press.

About 4 million Iraqis have been displaced inside and outside Iraq. Syria continued to be the biggest host of Iraqi refugees, receiving an estimated 30,000 a month. The United States accepted 63 Iraqi refugees last month, and just 36 in the first five months of this year, according to the State Department.

Syria, which allows Iraqi children to attend free public schools, does not have enough space for all of them. Only 32,000 of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children in Syria are actually in school, Redmond said.

"A whole generation of Iraqi children is in danger of missing out on an education," Redmond said.

Meanwhile in Iraq, the violence continued.

[The U.S. military on Saturday announced the deaths of six American service members in combat operations in Iraq, most of them in the Baghdad area, the Associated Press reported.

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