( UN ) - More than 4 million Iraqis have fled their homes, seeking refuge either inside the country or beyond its borders as the situation deteriorates, the United Nations refugee agency said today, urging countries to do more to ease their plight.
"The situation in Iraq continues to worsen, with more than 2 million Iraqis now believed to be displaced inside Iraq and another 2.2 million sheltering in neighbouring States," said Jennifer Pagonis a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today in Geneva.
"UNHCR is rapidly expanding its operations and presence in the region, but the magnitude of the crisis is staggering," she said.
Calls for increased international support for governments in the region have so far brought few results, and access to social services for Iraqis remains limited, according to the agency, which notes that most of the burden is being carried by Jordan and Syria.
"Recognition rates of Iraqis in various countries outside the region, particularly in Europe, remain low. UNHCR repeats its call for all borders to remain open to those in need of protection."
Inside Iraq, some 85 per cent of the displaced - mostly from Baghdad and surrounding districts - are in the central and southern regions. Since February last year, an estimated 820,000 people have been displaced, "including 15,000 Palestinians who have nowhere to go," Ms. Pagonis said.
She said the governorates inside Iraq "are becoming overwhelmed by the needs of the displaced." At least 10 out of the 18 governorates have closed their borders or are restricting access to new arrivals.
"UNHCR is receiving disturbing reports of regional authorities refusing to register new arrivals, including single women, and denying access to government services. Many displaced have been evicted from public buildings," she said.
The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and WFP indicate that nearly half of the displaced have no access to official food distribution channels and the number of impoverished shanty towns is increasing.
According to government figures, some 1.4 million Iraqis are now displaced in Syria, up to 750,000 in Jordan, 80,000 in Egypt and some 200,000 in the Gulf region. Syria alone receives a minimum of 30,000 Iraqis a month.
UNHCR has 300 staff based in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Geneva and in Iraq itself working full time the issue.
"Since the beginning of the year, our offices in surrounding countries have registered more than 130,000 Iraqi refugees," Ms. Pagonis said, adding that by the end of May, UNHCR had interviewed some 7,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqis and sent their dossiers to potential resettlement countries for their further assessment and action.
"We urge these countries to make rapid decisions and facilitate the departure of those most in need."
UNHCR is racing to help the displaced but requirements far outstrip resources. "Our goal is to provide basic assistance and shelter to some 300,000 uprooted Iraqis inside the country by the end of this year. This, however, is just a fraction of the overall needs," Ms. Pagonis said.