“Searching for a place that will preserve their dignity”

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Girls look through a fence at a refugee camp in Mosul April 5, 2007. About 250 families moved from Tal Afar town to camps in Mosul since last weeks' violence attacks. REUTERS/Khaled al-Mousuly (IRAQ)

Later this week, representatives of 192 countries and nongovernmental organizations will gather in Geneva for The International Conference on Addressing the Humanitarian Needs of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons inside Iraq and Neighboring Countries. Shining a light on the conditions of Iraqi refugees and Internally Displaced Persons, this meeting will attempt to raise emergency funds to provide the most basic care for these victims of our invasion and occupation of their country.  And this week, we have information on how we can help as well.

Many of those most in need are children like the young girls seen above – they have no voice in the machinations of governments and militia. World Vision has interviewed four Iraqi refugee children in order to bring their voices to the conference – and you can listen to their stories here: Iraq Children Trapped

Iraq Bleeds , the UNHCR magazine for the conference, describes the situation as follows:

The socio-economic and security indicators coming out of Iraq make stark reading. The average number killed each day was – at least up until February – believed to be around 100. Two out of five adults are traumatized. Fifty percent of the working population is unemployed. Many schools have closed because of insecurity. Thousands of doctors, teachers and other professionals have been murdered. Many of the rest have fled.

The problems facing Iraq's neighbours are daunting: during 2006, the quiet but constant stream of people leaving Iraq turned into a steady torrent, with tens of thousands per month crossing the borders into Syria and Jordan.

By early 2007, two million Iraqis on top of some four million long-term Palestinian refugees had made the Middle East easily the biggest refugee-hosting region in the world. Add in the nearly 2 million displaced people inside Iraq, and the problem becomes gigantic.

For this reason, the UN refugee agency and others began to speak out with increasing urgency during the latter part of 2006: Jordan, Syria and the other countries in the region need help and they need it fast. The Iraqi refugees are rapidly plunging deeper into poverty and despair. The pressures are building inexorably across the board.

While Jordan and Syria are being overwhelmed with refugees from Iraq, internally displaced people within the country are also finding life harder than ever as regional governates are beginning to block refugees from moving to their area.

The UN Cluster on Refugees, IDPs and Durable Solutions, of which IOM is the deputy coordinator, estimates that the number of Iraqis displaced by violence since the bombing of the Al-Askari shrine in Samarra in late February 2006 has now increased to almost 800,000 individuals. This figure, combined with the 1.2 million individuals who were internally displaced before February 2006 brings the total number of internally displaced to almost 2 million.

In-depth assessments carried out by IOM monitoring teams in 2006 and early 2007 among some 55,000 families in 15 Central and Southern Governorates show that a majority of newly displaced IDPs live in substandard, overcrowded public buildings or rented accommodation with little or no access to running water, sanitation or electricity.

And ever day, the number of people fleeing for their lives grows. While most reports show that these refugees are fleeing militias and armed thugs, some are fleeing direct attacks from US forces. Salah al-Mindlawi reports in Azzaman

U.S. troops attacked the residential area housing the professors who teach at the University of Diyala. The troops barged into the houses and detained many occupants for several hours before setting them free. The University is situated in and named for Diyala, of which the restive and violent city of Baaqouba is the capital.

In a statement, the university said U.S. troops detonated doors in the residential complex and searched the professors 'in a very provocative manner.' Dr. Saadoun al-Ujaili, head of the university's public relations office, said even the houses and flats which were empty were searched and their doors destroyed.

"The U.S. troops handcuffed several professors fro several hours in the middle of the complex's public garden and in front of other occupants," Ujaili said."Many houses suffered a lot of damage," he added.

The statement by the university said many professors were packing and were determined to leave the city. "They are searching for a place that will preserve their dignity," the statement said.

Ujaili said Iraqi professors were facing 'unbearable conditions' from U.S. and Iraqi troops on the one hand and anti-U.S. rebels and gunmen on the other. In the past 24 hours, the police say they have recovered 32 bodies dumped in the Diyala River bisecting the city of Baaqouba among them the body of Abdulghabur al-Qaisi, a history professor.

While each day we learn more of the devastation the occupation has meant for Iraq, there are several things we can do this week to help. First, each of us should call our Senators and Congresspeople and demand that they push for funding for international efforts to save these refugees – this is clearly an obligation that we should acknowledge and fund. Tell them you want the US to step up and commit to funding the efforts of the Geneva conference now.

Second, we can each send as much as we can to one of the organizations providing emergency care – there are several good organizations who are doing effective work in the region and they desperately need our support:

THe Red Crescent through the International Red Cross – select Iraq in the Programme dropdown list and your donation will go directly to the Iraqi operations of the Red Crescent who provide the most immediate, essential support to Iraqis throughout the country.

World Vision – is providing assistance to Iraqi refugees.

and Caritas – a Catholic charity doing superb work inside and outside Irak:

International Catholic Migration Commission
Citibank USA
153 East 53rd Street, 16th floor
New York, NY 10043
Account # 10100491, ABA # 21000089, Swift Code CITIUS33
To ensure that the money reaches the Iraqi program, write “Iraq-icmc” on your check.

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