- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

Refugee crisis

The U.N. refugee agency warned last week that Syria and Jordan are unable to cope with the influx of Iraqi refugees and have beseeched donors to make good on about $60 million in outstanding promises.

Syria has received an estimated 1.5 million Iraqis since the start of the Iraq war, and Jordan about half as many. Many of these newcomers lack resources and rely on public services for schooling, health care as well as food and other assistance.

“It is unconscionable that generous host countries be left on their own to deal with such a huge crisis,” said Ron Redmond, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“We strongly urge governments to step forward now to support them in dealing with this situation and renew our call for international solidarity and burden sharing.”

Mr. Redmond said the refugees will face increasing hardship as time slips by, as will the communities that are struggling to host them.

Syria has an open-door policy for Iraqis but cannot find enough room in schools or affordable shelter. Its medical system is unable to deal with the health needs of so many people, some of them chronically ill or victims of torture.

Jordan, which has largely closed its border, is trying to absorb roughly 750,000 Iraqis without jeopardizing its fragile economy or political balance.

The first waves of Iraqis landing in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Oman and some European countries were relatively well-off, able to rent apartments with their savings or family contributions. Many were skilled professionals who could readily find work.

But in the past year, many Iraqi families have fled with little more than a few suitcases and with no one prepared to earn an income in a new land. In Syria, which receives thousands of Iraqis by bus every week, some have resorted to prostitution or crime.

UNHCR organized a conference in April attended by 400 diplomats, nongovernmental organizations and aid agencies, which pledged a collective $70 million — a fraction of what is needed. The United States has pledged $125 million and has accepted roughly 800 Iraqis for resettlement, against a cap of 7,000 by the end of September.

Risky business

The Security Council is increasingly being drawn into Lebanon’s political morass, a potentially dangerous development for both the country and the organization.

Indeed, the Levant and not Israel is the focus of the Council’s Middle East attention this month: No fewer than three separate (but eternally overlapping) issues will come up for discussion.

Tomorrow, council members will discuss the demarcation of the Syria-Lebanon border. Investigator Serge Brammertz will brief the council July 15 on his probe of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others. And the expanded United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon mission will be discussed later in the month.

Global gobbets

c South Korea will send a mechanized infantry contingent to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the peacekeeping mission in the south.

With the addition of the 350 Koreans, who will be based in the relative safety south of Tyre, UNIFIL will have more than 11,600 ground troops, plus 2,000 naval personnel.

c Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week appointed veteran Brazilian diplomat and arms-control specialist Sergio de Queiroz Duarte to head the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs.

Mr. Duarte, who served in Brazil’s U.S. Embassy in the early 1970s, succeeds Japan’s Nobuyasu Abe, who angrily resigned after Mr. Ban downgraded the department earlier this year.

c The U.N. Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism will enter into force later this month, after Bangladesh became the 22nd nation to ratify the treaty. Signatories pledge to extradite and prosecute those who plot against potentially radioactive targets such as power plants or nuclear reactors.

c Betsy Pisik may be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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