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UN to discuss 'urgent' needs of nearly 2 million displaced Iraqis

Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Hesham Youssef, reflects on the need for emergency ‘winter assistance’ for nearly 2 million Iraqi internally displaced persons

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 26 Oct 2014
Displaced Iraqis
Displaced Iraqis ride on a truck on a mountain road near the Turkish-Iraq border, outside Dahuk, in Iraq Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014 (Photo: AP)
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A meeting to discuss the urgent needs of about two million displaced Iraqis will take place on Monday morning at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The focus will be fundraising efforts to help people in northern Iraq survive in camps during the winter. The meeting brings together international donors along with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) humanitarian division. 

The meeting comes after a joint five-day mission last week to Iraq by the OIC Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and a team from OCHA.

Displaced people in northern Iraq, particularly women, children and the elderly are already "devastated" and "traumatised," Hesham Youssef, Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs at the pan-Islamic organisation, said in a phone interview from Jeddah.

“We need over $1.4 billion to address the overall situation until the end of 2015, but our focus now is on the winterisation scheme,” Youssef said.

The UN issued an updated appeal for $2.2 billion in humanitarian assistance last Thursday to reflect a turn for the worse in the country’s humanitarian crisis after the rise of ISIS. The amount is projected to meet the needs of those displaced throughout the rest of 2014 and through the end of 2015.

However, only $600 million has been made available thus far, primarily coming from a generous Saudi contribution of $500 million.

“This donation covered the basic needs of the refugees,” Youssef said, adding that “in terms of bracing for a cold winter, there is very little in the possession of displaced Iraqis – or for that matter the regional government of Kurdistan, that has seen its resources stretched to the limit.”

According to Youssef, in a little over three months, Iraq has seen one of the worst human tragedies in modern history given the short period of time in which it has occurred.

Youssef explained that the majority of those displaced were in Kurdistan, which has opened its borders to 850,000 people.

“The situation for Yazidis and Christians is particularly devastating,” Youssef added.

In addition to taking in those Iraqis displaced by ISIS, the Kurdish government recently made the decision to accommodate Syrian refugees from Kobane. 

Along with those coming from Kobane are the quarter of a million Syrian refugees in Kurdistan who have been there for around three years with no end in sight.

The five-day mission allowed the humanitarian team to have a close look at what Youssef describes as “the heart-breaking and disturbing images of those displaced” and refugees who are awaiting political solutions that “seem more distant every day.”

The displaced are also waiting for the generosity of donors who have not been very forthcoming due to the laundry-list of issues plaguing the region, including the crisis in Syria, the situation in Gaza after the latest Israeli aggression and civil strife in various countries.

“We heard a few complaints that reflect the complexity of the wider context of the Iraqi crisis,” Youssef said, explaining that many international organisations did not realise, for example, that most Iraqis will not wear used clothing regardless of how harsh their situation is.

Youssef also spoke about the limits of hospitality among Iraqis.

“I have to say I am really impressed by the exceptional sense of hospitality and solidarity that Iraqis have shown in accommodating their fellow displaced Iraqis," he said, while adding that “generosity and hospitality also have their limits – and things are getting tough for everyone.”

Most schools in Kurdistan have been delayed to the beginning of December in view of the fact that almost all of them are packed with displaced students.

“If this new date is not met it will further stretch a situation that many believe has already reached its limits. The children of Kurdistan will have to go to school sooner or later,” Youssef stated.

Meanwhile, the visiting OIC-OCHA delegation heard complaints from government officials in Baghdad and Kurdistan about the scarcity of resources available to both governments. This was attributed to a number of reasons, ranging from expanding responsibilities in Kurdistan to the complications of the war on ISIS waged by the Baghdad government at a time when oil prices are sharply declining.

The meetings of the joint team in Baghdad included Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Al-Motlak, who is responsible for the file of displaced individuals and the Minister of Immigration and the Displaced, Derdas Mohamed. In Kurdistan it included the ministers for planning and interior as well as officials dealing with external affairs.

“But the bottom line of a long story that we heard from both sides is that they don’t have enough money and that if assistance is not provided promptly neither government will be able to put up with the challenges of preparing winter camps and providing enough heaters, blankets and warm clothing to close to two million displaced Iraqis,” Youssef said.

“We are just talking about the very essential and the very urgent – we have not even started to discuss the need to provide for education or better healthcare or trauma therapy for women who escaped death and perhaps evaded rape and for children who have seen murder and have been forced into a very scary escape,” he added.

Youssef is “genuinely hopeful that when Monday’s meeting in Geneva comes to an end there will be serious hope for a prompt start to the winterisation process – otherwise the humanitarian tragedy in north Iraq for people who have already witnessed so much brutality and fear will be set to take a much more devastating turn.”

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