Iraq warned of a humanitarian crisis on Thursday as it appealed to the international community to help hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have taken refuge from war in neighbouring countries.
"The Iraqi government calls on the international community, in particular neighbouring countries, to support Iraq to overcome this difficult stage," said Mohammed al-Hajj al-Hmud, the secretary general of Iraq's foreign ministry.
"It's their duty to provide all assistance to displaced Iraqis, ease their suffering and help them find a solution to their problem," Hmud told a conference called to grapple with the issue in the Jordanian capital.
"One of the main problems faced by the Iraqis in neighbouring countries is to have a dignified life," he added, stressing "Large numbers of them suffer hardships."
According to the United Nations, some four million of Iraq's 26 million people have fled Iraqi violence, including those who left before the 2003 US-led invasion of the country. Of these, an estimated 1.4 million escaped to Syria and 750,000 to Jordan.
The UNHCR calls this the biggest wave of displacement in the Middle East since 1948, when the creation of Israel caused hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to take flight.
Attended by delegates from Syria and Egypt as well as observers from Britain, Iran, Japan, Russia, Turkey, the European Union, the United States and UNHCR, the conference is expected to conclude with a series of recommendations.
Hmud said the international community must do more to help the host countries to cope with the rising influx of refugees in order to avoid a "humanitarian crisis."
The Iraqi delegate called for "coordination and cooperation between host countries, countries, Iraq, donor countries and international humanitarian organisations."
"The humanitarian duty calls upon all of us to look more seriously at the size of the problem and acknowledge that there is a real humanitarian crisis," he said echoing a similar plea by Amnesty International.
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The rights watchdog said Thursday the Iraqi exodus "threatens a humanitarian crisis that could engulf the region unless concerted international action is taken now."
Hmud also urged host countries to "facilitate residency permits for Iraqis and ... enable them to stay until conditions are suitable for their return to their homeland."
He said some countries, which he did not identify, had blocked the entry of Iraqis on their territory amid security concerns.
"We urge these countries to adopt clear mechanisms for entry visas or set parameters for the issue in cooperation with the UNHCR (UN refugee agency) in order to organise the entry of Iraqis," he said.
Jordan, which said hosting Iraqis costs the desert kingdom around one billion dollars a year, asked the international community to provide more direct aid to local ministries and agencies.
"This will help us continue our assistance to them and meet their educational and health needs," said Mkheimar Abu Jamus, secretary general of the interior ministry.
Syria's ambassador to Jordan Milad Attiyeh, for his part, called on the United States and other international players to help host countries cope with the "infrastructure, health, education and security burdens" they are facing.
"Syria believes it is important to involve international parties in the issue, particularly the United Sates as an occupying power whose policies led to the suffering of the Iraqi refugees," he said.
"International parties, mainly the United States, should shoulder their responsibilities in assisting host countries in a serious way, finding a political solution to guarantee Iraq's security and stability, improving humanitarian conditions, allowing the return of refugees to their homeland and encouraging other Iraqis to stay in their country."
Earlier this month, the UNHCR doubled to 123 million dollars its annual appeal funding to help boost medical care, shelter and other support for the Iraqis.
Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse