By Dale Gavlak
Friday, July 27, 2007
AMMAN, Jordan, July 26 -- Jordan pleaded on Thursday for international help to deal with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled here to avoid violence at home, saying the refugees cost the kingdom $1 billion a year in basic services.
The entry of 750,000 Iraqis has strained Jordan's infrastructure and brought the threat of violence, Mukhaimer Abu Jamous, secretary general of the Interior Ministry, said on the opening day of an international conference on the issue.
"The prevailing security situation in Iraq, which prompted an influx of refugees to Jordan, has led to increased security challenges in our country," he said.
He did not specify the security problems, but Jordan has shown concern over Iraq's sectarian violence possibly spreading to its soil, as well as potential criminal problems from Iraqis who have few steady job prospects in exile.
Abu Jamous called for "urgent assistance" to the cash-strapped kingdom. Struggling under the constant flow of refugees, Jordan has tightened its residency regulations. All Iraqis must undergo thorough security background checks before they are given permission to stay.
The one-day conference is exploring ways to ease the burden of countries hosting the more than 2.5 million Iraqis who have fled their homeland.
Besides the influx into Jordan, about 1.5 million Iraqis have fled to Syria, while Egypt and Lebanon have more than 200,000 each. Under pressure to take in refugees, the United States has said it will accept 7,000 Iraqis by the end of September.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, about 50,000 people continue to flee Iraq every month, mostly to neighboring Jordan and Syria.
The two countries have repeatedly warned that the influx was exhausting their limited resources, burdening their health-care and education systems, and causing a sharp rise in inflation and real estate prices.
An additional 2 million Iraqis are believed to be displaced within Iraq. Many have taken refuge in the Kurdish north, which has largely been spared from violence, or in the Shiite heartland in the south.
The London-based human rights group Amnesty International said the flow of refugees is "threatening a humanitarian crisis that could engulf the region unless concerted international action is taken now."
"The response of the international community must go beyond accepting token numbers of refugees from Iraq -- their assistance must constitute a significant part of the solution to this terrible crisis," said Malcolm Smart, head of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program.