DAMASCUS, 6 July 2009 (IRIN) - The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is being forced to cut back its services to Iraqi refugees, primarily in Syria and Jordan, from August, despite a US$5 million donation from Saudi Arabia on 28 June.
UNHCR financial and health care assistance to the refugees will be affected. “We have only 38 percent of our requested budget for our Iraqi operation [assistance to Iraqis both inside and beyond Iraq] in 2009,” said Carole Laleve, UNHCR spokesperson in Syria.
“The donation from Saudi Arabia is generous but we need many more donor countries to come forward if we are to reach the 397 million dollars needed to run all our programmes for refugees and internally displaced Iraqis.
As it is, we will be making cuts to all our services, affecting the most vulnerable refugees.” The UN’s World Refugee Survey 2009, published in May, estimated that 1.2 million Iraqi refugees are currently in Syria; 209,200 of them were registered with the UNHCR as of last month. Iraqi refugees are not legally allowed to work in Syria. As their savings diminish, more and more of them are relying on the UNHCR for financial assistance, health care, education and food.
Jordan hosts the second largest number of Iraqi refugees. The World Refugee Survey puts their number at 450,000, of whom 65,000 were registered with the UNHCR in January 2009. “The Saudi donation will be split two-to-one between Syria and Jordan and has been designated by Saudi Arabia for provision of food and health assistance,” said Laleve. “But in those and other areas the lack of funding will have real ramifications for the refugees [from Iraq, including some Palestinians] in Syria and Jordan.”
Who will be affected?
From August financial assistance will “not be sustainable”, according to UNHCR. A large chunk of the monthly cash handouts go to the most vulnerable families - female-headed households - and these look likely to be cut back sharply, perhaps even completely, depending on funding.
UNHCR will no longer distribute certain non-food items such as nappies and sanitary towels. UNHCR said it would cut its health funding; and plans to expand programmes of psycho-social care for traumatized Iraqis would be shelved.
Funding for vocational training programmes would be reduced. Outreach programmes, which have been especially successful in reaching vulnerable women, would also be negatively affected. Refugees outside Damascus could be adversely affected because UNHCR staff trips will be curtailed.
No new agreements will be concluded with partner NGOs - something that will affect Palestinians from Iraq living as refugees in Al Tanf camp in no-man’s land between Syria and Iraq, and Al Hol (also for Palestinians from Iraq) in the Hassakeh region of Syria.
The USA has reduced its donation to UNHCR's Iraq operation for 2009 to $90 million, whilst the European Union has cut its contribution to just under $5 million. Australia is the second largest donor with just over $7 million. The UK has given just over $3 million.