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Deputy UNHCR head wraps up two-country tour

An elderly Iraqi refugee sleeps rough on the streets of Amman, Jordan. Even if Iraqis manage to flee the violence in their own country, they often face hardships in neighbouring nations.
(Dana Hazeen/IRIN)

Deputy Head of UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Craig Johnstone said at the end of his first trip to Jordan and Syria that progress had been made on the plight of Iraqi refugees.

Johnstone told IRIN on 22 July he had “very good meetings” with government officials from the two countries.

He hoped a change in Jordanian law would allow refugees better access to education and medical facilities. “Within the next week or two [the government] will issue some decree that will ameliorate the situation for the refugees,” he said.

At present, a large number of Iraqi refugees have been refused residency in Jordan, restricting their access to domestic services, including education. However, according to Johnstone, the government is in the process of rethinking this policy and he expects an imminent change to grant refugees access to more basic services.

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Jordan is currently home to up to 750,000 Iraqi refugees. However, following the November 2005 Iraqi-insurgent linked bombing in Amman which killed 60 people, the government has largely blocked the entry of new refugees, a policy Johnstone does not expect to change.

“I see very little prospect that they’re going to open their borders any time soon,” he said.


In Syria, which still grants Iraqis entry into the country, Johnstone praised government policy towards the estimated 1.5 million refugees, but expressed concern for the 1,400 Palestinians stranded in makeshift desert camps on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

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The Syrian government has refused Palestinians entry into the country for fear that it will lead to the inflow of all 15,000 Palestinians in Iraq.

Returning from a trip to Al-Tanf and Al-Walid camps, Johnstone described the situation as desperate.

“The victims are in dire straits: medically in dire straits - in terms of water and food in dire straits. This is not a happy picture,” he said.

He said a third country had been willing to accept the Palestinians but that the proposal had been vetoed by the Palestinian Authority worried that the flight of Palestinians from the region would endanger their right of return. He said negotiations for their resettlement were ongoing.

“We are in touch with a couple of countries where we have some hope, but we don’t have a Yes yet. So we’re pushing,” he said.

Role for aid agencies

Johnstone also called on the international community to strengthen its support for the two countries, suggesting that those unwilling to deal directly with the Syrian government, such as the USA, provide support via humanitarian agencies.

“The international community has got to step up and help Syria out and there’s a lot of ways people can help Syria... For one thing the UNHCR is here and it’s helping and they can donate to the UNHCR and we’ll see to it that Syria is the beneficiary,” he said.

A regional conference to be attended by Jordanian, Syrian, Egyptian and UNHCR officials has been arranged in Jordan for 26 July to discuss the Iraqi refugee crisis.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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