Iraqi refugess are unwanted in their own land as provinces bar them from entering, the UN refugee agency warns.
Provincial authorities, unable to cope with the influx, are refusing entry to refugees fleeing violence, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said.
”In many parts of the country refugees are being stopped at roadblocks and told they cannot go any further,” Andrew Harper, the UNHCR Iraq Support Unit chief, said.
Authorities in 16 of the 18 Iraqi provinces have sealed off access to refugees and if they do manage to get into the province then food and other vital services are denied, Harper said.
”Local authorities are also restricting access to food, health care and education. So not only are they being stopped but aid to them is also being halted. Iraqi authorities are simply overwhelmed.”
Two governorates (Ninewa and Baghdad) do not limit refugee access or registration, Harper said.
There could be up to 100,000 Iraqis leaving their homes every month, Harper believes. This translates into a daily average of more than 3,000 refugees on the move.
It is difficult to gauge the exact number of internal refugees but the UNHCR believes the figure is in the region of 2.2 million.
Another 2.2 million Iraqis are estimated to have fled to neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan which in turn are finding that their own social services are stretched to the limit.
The UNHCR estimates that at least 12 per cent of Iraqis have fled their homes due to the violence that has spread through the country since the 2003 US-led invasion.
Even when they manage to go to other countries their plight is nothing more than miserable.
In Syria, almost a third of Iraqi refugee children do not go to school. There have been reports form a number of countries, according to the UN, that Iraqi women are forced to turn to prostitution to feed their families.
The flight of Iraqis is the biggest movement of people in the Middle East since the exodus of Palestinians from what became Israel in 1948
The difficulties faced by Iraqis in neighbouring countries is not a matter of ill will or an uncaring attitutde. They are just unable to cope.
Iraq had a total population of about 26.8 million in 2003.
Refugees within Iraq’s borders could reach more than 2.5 million by the end of 2007.
TOM CLIFFORD is a journalist based in Dubai. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org