UN refugee chief calls for solidarity with Jordan, Syria

The head of the UN refugee agency on Thursday praised Jordan and Syria for taking in fleeing Iraqis and urged the international community to show its solidarity by providing more direct, bilateral support.

Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also highlighted the need to separate the political dimensions and relations in the region – especially regarding Syria – from the humanitarian problem at hand.

“I believe the international community has a huge debt of gratitude towards Syria and Jordan – they’re paying a very heavy price,” Guterres told a small group of reporters in the Austrian capital.

Jordan and Syria host the largest percentage of the more than two million displaced Iraqis and complain of the increasing burdens on their health and education infrastructures. Smaller numbers of Iraqis have fled to Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey.

Guterres called a refugee aid agreement between Syria and Germany earlier this week as a “very positive development” and encouraged others to follow suit.

“I would encourage the international community to give direct support to the activities of both Syria and Jordan in direct support to the Iraqi refugees in their countries,” Guterres said, adding that the areas of education and health were most strained.

Also this week, the top US envoy on refugees announced that the United States will increase its support to countries hosting Iraqi refugees with a $30 million grant for education.

“Our programme is just a drop in the ocean, and that is why I believe it is very important for countries to establish meaningful forms of cooperation with both Syria and Jordan,” Guterres said.

Guterres also said Syria deserved the recognition and support of the international community – regardless of how its policies on political matters may be perceived.

“Independently of what one might think about Syria’s policy… one thing is true: In relation to the refugees in Iraq, Syria has been the most constructive and positive country, and this needs to be recognised and this needs to have the expression of solidarity,” Guterres said.

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