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Jordan, Syria ask world to help

Say Iraq refugees strain resources

Iraqi refugees waited to get their meal in the Jaramana suburb of Damascus last month. About 1.9 million people have been uprooted within Iraq, many of them in the last year. (Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters)

GENEVA -- Jordan and Syria begged the international community yesterday to help them shoulder the burden of about 2 million Iraqi refugees straining their resources and economies.

Senior officials from the two states were addressing a meeting convened by the United Nations to tackle the problem of nearly 4 million Iraqis driven by the conflict to seek refuge either inside or outside Iraq.

"We, in the Syrian Arab Republic, are facing a huge mass of refugees . . . this lays great pressure on the economy and infrastructure of our country," Vice Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told the talks.

Syria is hosting an estimated 1.2 million Iraqis -- a number equal to 12 percent of its own population -- and needs another $256 million to continue providing them with aid, health care and education over the next two years, Mekdad said in a speech.

Mukhaimer Abu Jamous, secretary general of Jordan's Interior Ministry, said 750,000 Iraqi refugees were costing his government $1 billion a year, stretching to the limit the resources of a country of just 5.6 million.

"We hope that this important conference results in a clear and firm commitment by the international community to take part in shouldering the great burden," he said.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who is chairing the two-day talks, said host countries in the region had vowed to keep open their borders.

"Today it is clear that the countries of asylum have pledged that they would go on granting protection to Iraqis and that they consider to send Iraqis forcibly into the country against their will is not acceptable," he told a news conference at the end of the first day.

Donor countries had pledged financial aid and to take in more of the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees for resettlement, he said, without giving details.

Earlier, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent a message urging states to keep their borders open and to abide by the international principle of no forced returns.

About 1.9 million people have been uprooted within Iraq, many of them in the last year.

The UNHCR refugee agency said up to 50,000 fled their homes each month. They were driven out by violence, poor services, loss of jobs, and an uncertain future, the agency said.