Kris Janowski, Spokesman
United Nations High Commission for Refugees
Thursday, March 19, 2003; 10 a.m. ET
With a war in Iraq underway, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has pre-positioned relief supplies for nearly half of its working figure of 600,000 possible Iraqi refugees. UNHCR is quick to point out that this number is not a prediction "but a working figure based on one of many possible scenarios." The humanitarian needs of Iraqi civilians could depend on a variety of factors once hostilities begin.
Kris Janowski, spokesman for UNHCR was online Thursday, March 20 at 10 a.m. ET, from Geneva headquarters to discuss plans for managing a potential Iraqi humanitarian crisis.
A transcript follows.
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washingtonpost.com: Mr. Kris Janwoski, thank you for being with us today. How are you planning to take care of the refugees from the war with Iraq?
Kris Janowski: I am glad to join in. We are tentatively planning for 600,000 refugees but this is just a planning figure. It could be fewer and it could be more. we are working with Iraq's neighbours on the construction of refugee camps. We now have stocks for about 300,000 people.
Jersey City, N.J.: UNHCR has been struggling to provide assistance to a number of refugees' communities around the world during the last few years becasue of its budget issues, so how does UNHCR plan to manage/react to such a huge operation? Is UNHCR expecting a special fund for Iraq? and if yes, who/how many countries are willing to contribute to this fund?
Kris Janowski: We have a special plan for Iraq. We need about 60 million dollars to make the most basic preparations and to take care of the refugees during the first month. Over six months we would need 154 million. We have already received 21 million including 15 from the US but we have spent 28 so our financial situation is not that great. We hope donation will start coming in once there is a humanitarian crisis...
Virginia: Any idea about how the refugees will react?
Kris Janowski: We have no idea how they will react. During the 1991 gulf war there two million people, mostly Iraqi Kurds fled. However, they did not flee during the allied bombing but only later as Ira
Cochranville, Pa.: After the war, will the United States goverment help Iraq build a new nation?
Kris Janowski: We certainly hope that the international community as a whole will help rebuild the nation so that all refugees can go back. Today, Iraqis are the largest group of aslylum seekers in the industrialized world.
Silver Spring, Md.: How do Russia, France and Germany feel about the UNHCR efforts? Have they contributed to the funds?
Kris Janowski: So far, we have had bo contributions from them to the Iraqi crisis but we hope that will change. The Germans have already signalleed that they will pitch in...
Washington, D.C.: How much of the estimated $100 billion war cost is earmarked for refugee assistance through UNHRC?
Since the invasion of Iraq is not sanctioned by the UN, is UNHRC equipped to document instances of excessive violence by U.S. troops for possible war crimes trials?
Kris Janowskil: Our total needs over six months are 154 million dollars. We will not be operating in Iraq itself but rather helping refugees.
Arlington,Va.: How can people donate money to the refugee cause? Is there a telephone number or an e-mail address or a Web site?
Kris Janowski: Yes, you can go to www.unhcr.ch and click on donate. Needless to say, donations are welcome. Many thanks
Fairfax, Va.: Where will the refugees go? Are you prepared to set up camps for them?
Kris Janowski: We are planning for 600,000 possible refugees with 300,000 goinmg to Iran and the rest spread between Turkey, Jordan and Syria. But then this is just our best guess.
Somewhere, USA: I sincerly apologize for Bush's callous attitude toward the U.N.
As an American, I view this war as unjustified and unnecessary.
Today, I am ashamed to be am an American because the president has sought to become no better than the terrorists he seeks to destroy.
Now, some will label me as unpatrotic. But it is MORE patriotic to point out that what your government is doing is wrong. In fact, it violates international law.
I am sorry for the crisis that this action has foisted upon the U.N.
Thank you for your tremondous work. Also, do you have any suggestions on what I could do to help? Are you establishing a relief fund?
Kris Janowski: You can go to www.unhcr.ch and click on donate. Many thanks for your help and generosity
Washington, D.C.: How soon will the refugee aid commence?
Kris Janowski: We already have a lot of stocks prepositioned in Iran, Jordan, Turkey and Syria including tents, blankets and other relief items. The actual aid opertation will start as soon as people begin leaving Iraq and asking for help. Let us hop it will never happen ....
Alexandria, Va.: How do those countries you mentioned feel about taking in refugees from Iraq?
Kris Janowski: They are ambivalent about it. A war is a dramatric event and Iraq's neighbours are understandably nervous. That said we must urge them to keep their borders open to those fleeing. This is our job. So far we have had good cooperation from Iraq's neighbours.
Alexandria, Va.: Will the historical tensions between Iraq and Iran have an effect on where refugees are able to go? Do you think Iran would be willing to accept a large number of refugees?
Kris Janowski: Iran is most likely to host Shia refugee from the south who are perceived as friendly in Iran and therefore we do not expect major problems as Iran nis also predominantly Shia..
Rockville, Md.: What countries will you be operating in? And will host country nationals be working with you? Will they receive stipends? What other assistance will be provided to the countries which absorb refugees?
Kris Janowski: We have offices all over the region, in all neighbouring countries. The main focus of our work will be in Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Iran. We are already closely working with local charity organisations and the Red Crescent ...
Ireland: What is meant by the term "the U.S. fights, the UN feeds and the EU pays?"
Kris Janowski: I do not know what it means, quite frankly....
Washington, D.C.: Since a substantial number of the refugees will be fleeing in fear from the U.S. forces, will the UNHCR be prepared to record statements made as evidence of any alleged war crimes once the refugees reach the safety of the UN tents?
Is the collection of evidence on human rights abuses an important function of the UN Human Rights Commission?
Kris Janowski: During previous millitary interventions (1991 Gulf war, Kosovo,Afghnanistan) most people fled for various resaons but not because of the intervention itself. So hard to tell. One of our tasks with refugees is to ask why they fled and this time we will also ask ...
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.