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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 February 2007, 19:02 GMT
Sharp increase in Iraqi refugees
By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Geneva

Woman at a displaced person's camp in Iraq
Millions of Iraqis have fled the violence within the country
The United Nations refugee agency says there has been a dramatic increase in the number of Iraqis trying to register with them for assistance.

On Sunday and Monday alone, the agency's office in Syria registered more than 5,000 Iraqi refugees.

A UN spokesman in Geneva said the situation was increasingly desperate and called on the international community to do more to help.

The UN high commissioner for refugees has just visited refugees in Syria.

Antonio Guterres is reported to be shocked by the conditions there.

Over two million Iraqis have fled their homes, mainly to neighbouring Syria and Jordan.

'Increasingly desperate'

Such is the pressure on the UN refugee agency in Damascus that it has opened 11 new interview rooms to register refugees.

It has even recruited its drivers and security guards to help with the process.

The occupation and the violence in Iraq are obviously generating enormous displacement
Ron Redmond
Spokesman, UNHCR
Over 5,000 Iraqis have been registered in the last two days alone.

Many had queued outside agency headquarters since Saturday night.

In Geneva the agency's chief spokesman, Ron Redmond, said the situation was getting increasingly desperate for those fleeing Iraq.

"The occupation and the violence in Iraq are obviously generating enormous displacement," he said.

"The high commissioner said during his mission that we're facing a humanitarian disaster."

Many of the Iraqis who have fled now live in acute poverty, with little access to health care or to school places for their children.

The UN refugee agency says the international community must do more to help because Syria and Jordan cannot bear the burden alone.

Mr Guterres is now in Washington, where he will lobby US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for more assistance.

He is also expected to call on the US to take action now to improve the humanitarian situation for the refugees.


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