UN agency expects huge refugee flow from Iraq
By Sanjeev Miglani
KABUL: The head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Sunday he expected 500,000 to 600,000 people to flee Iraq if the country came under attack, and appealed to neighbours to accommodate them at their borders.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers told a news conference in Kabul his agency had alerted Iraq’s neighbours to expect tens of thousands of refugees, if the United States went ahead with a military strike to destroy the country’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.
“There is no maximum figure, it could be more or less, but you have to plan somewhere...and we have come to the conclusion some 500,000 to 600,000 people will come to the borders, try to flee the country,” Lubbers said.
Iraq has begun destroying banned missiles in compliance with a March 1 deadline, but the United States has called this a game of deception and pressed ahead with military plans for a large-scale invasion to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Lubbers said ideally borders should be kept open so Iraqis could leave the country, but if that was not possible, they could be accommodated near the Iraqi side of the border. Iran — which already has a huge refugee population from Afghanistan — Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait and Turkey, share borders with Iraq. .
“The primary responsibility is of the neighbouring countries, and all of them have impressive Red Crescent organisations, and we can work very well together,” Lubbers said, adding that UNHCR was stocking up on emergency supplies to feed those displaced by a possible war.
So far, neither Iraq’s neighbours nor the international community had made any commitment to tackle the possible refugee outflow, he said. “We need international support, but understandably, today, nobody is enthusiastic about that situation. They say, when it happens, you can come to me, but not today.”
The U.N’s world food body said last month that a war on Iraq could worsen an already desperate food situation inside the country of 25 million people.
A majority of Iraqis depend solely on government food handouts each month and many already suffer from malnutrition.
Lubbers, who is a on 10-day visit to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, said everything must be done to avert war and added Iraq’s neighbours could play a key role in building up pressure on Saddam to disarm.
“The first priority for the world, and in particular for the U.N., is to prevent a military intervention by delivering the end of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq by peaceful means,” he said.
“I hope that in the coming weeks there will be massive pressure, not only on the military front by the United States and U.K., but also from neighbouring countries. I think they have a key interest to disarm Saddam Hussein when it comes to weapons of mass destruction.” —Reuters