Refugees Rise with Food Costs; Syria, Jordan Struggle with Huge Influx of Iraqis Escaping War

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 30, 2008 | Go to article overview

Refugees Rise with Food Costs; Syria, Jordan Struggle with Huge Influx of Iraqis Escaping War


Byline: Kelly Hearn, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Syria and Jordan are paying a high price, socially and economically, for the generosity with which they have hosted Iraqi refugees, the largest urban refugee caseload in history, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in a recent interview. The former Portuguese prime minister also spoke to The Washington Times at length on the refugee crises witnessed in Africa and Latin America and the looming threat of displacement caused by food shortage. Excerpts from the interview:

QUESTION: Rising food prices are putting pressure on weak states and will likely prompt some degree of global displacement. How severe is this problem?

ANSWER: It is extremely severe. We're witnessing a structural change in world food markets, and the problem needs to be addressed as such. We work with the World Food Program, and I can only appeal to the international community to be supportive. This isn't simply a humanitarian problem but a political one, especially for young democracies and countries emerging from conflict. The international community needs a strategy to deal with questions of trade, technology and market incentives to boost food production and make prices more affordable.

Q: Where do you expect to see the biggest food-related threats in the short term?

A: The urban poor and displaced are most directly affected, as are countries that are net importers of food. Africa is particularly vulnerable, but I'm starting to see impacts in Asian countries dependent on rice imports.

Q: Looking to Africa, where will the biggest refugee problems be concentrated over the next few years?

A: Darfur is a problem - one involving Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic. There are also concerns in the Horn of Africa, in Somalia. We have now, for example, Somali refugees in Kenya, Djibouti and Yemen. There are concerns over the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region in general. In the [Congo], for example, where people are still dying because of conflict, disease and famine, we have one tsunami every six months. That gives an idea of the dimension of the problem.

Q: Over half of Iraq's refugees live in Syria and Jordan under deteriorating humanitarian conditions. What is your agency doing?

A: Socially and economically, Syria and Jordan are paying a high price for the generosity with which they have hosted these Iraqis. We're dealing with the largest urban refugee caseload in history, trying to detect vulnerable families and provide assistance beyond what Jordan and Syria are providing. We're also promoting resettlements. Last year, we referred 20,000 Iraqis for resettlement around the world. We're also asking the Iraqi government to provide more support to Iraqis living in [other] countries and to solve problems at home to allow for safe and dignified returns. We're the only agency to have a permanent representative in Iraq, and we want to work closely with the government on these issues.

Q: The International Rescue Committee (IRC) says $2 billion is needed annually to maintain displaced Iraqis until they return home. In January, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees appealed for $261 million to help internally displaced Iraqis as well as those other countries. …

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