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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 July 2007, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Iraq refugee summit offers help
Iraqi refugees at a camp in Syria - file photo
Syria hosts the largest number of Iraqi refugees
An international conference in Jordan on the more than two million Iraqi refugees uprooted by war has pledged to help them with their difficulties.

But it insisted the solution to the problem lay in their return home and that the Iraqi government was directly responsible for its displaced citizens.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said some 50,000 more Iraqis were escaping the violence in their homeland each month.

Most are ending up in Jordan and Syria, which want help to ease the burden.

The UNHCR said the wave of displacement sparked by the war in Iraq was the biggest in the Middle East since 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the newly created Israel.

A final statement at the end of the conference, which was attended by Iraq's neighbours, as well as the UN, US and UK, called on the international community to provide all possible support to the Iraqi people.

It also insisted countries hosting refugees were given assistance "so that they can continue to provide an adequate level of services to Iraqi nationals", particularly in health and education.

The host countries should have the authority to regulate the entry and residence of Iraqi nationals "in line with their law and considerations", the statement added.

But the conference stopped short of addressing calls by Jordan and Syria earlier in the day for rich western nations to take in greater numbers of refugees.

The Iraqi government said it would make available a promised $25m for those straining under the load of the burgeoning numbers of refugees.

'Real humanitarian crisis'

Earlier, the secretary-general of the Iraqi foreign ministry, Muhammad Hajj Hamoud, said the refugee problem should not be underestimated.

We have lost [our] house, we are lost, my daughter is lost, my son [is] lost... help this family please
Najla Abda Karim Saleh
Iraqi refugee in Jordan

He added that efforts to stem the flow of refugees by Iraq's neighbours - who now impose tougher entry restrictions - resulted in cases of mistreatment at border crossings.

One refugee in Jordan, Najla Abda Karim Saleh, fled with her son and daughter. Another daughter was killed in sectarian violence.

She told the BBC she wanted help from the UN to bring her four grandchildren to safety in Amman, the Jordanian capital.

"We have lost [our] house, we are lost, my daughter is lost, my son [is] lost... help this family please," she wept.

Displaced Iraqi family
Violence forces thousands of Iraqis to flee their homes every month

The secretary-general of the Jordanian interior ministry, Mukhaimar Abu Jamous, told the summit that western countries had "relinquished their responsibility in shouldering the Iraqi refugee burden" and urged them to resettle the largest number possible.

The Syrian ambassador to Jordan, Milad Attiya, said the international community "must be involved, especially the United States because its policy led to the plight the Iraqis are currently in and it bears responsibility".

Although the US government announced earlier in the year that it would allow 7,000 Iraqis into the US by the end of September, it has allowed in just 133 over the past nine months because of stringent security measures.

Craig Johnstone, the UN deputy high commissioner for refugees, called for international assistance, since Syria and Jordan had few resources to cope with the influx.

"The international community, I think, has neglected the plight of the refugees from Iraq so far, but they are beginning to act," he told the BBC.

UNHCR says it hopes to find a permanent home for a total of 20,000 Iraqi exiles by the end of the year.


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