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UN refugee agency forced to change tack in Iraq

Deutsche Presse-Agentur

October 13, 2006

Geneva. The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, said Friday the growing "silent exodus" of people fleeing their homes because of the violence within Iraq was forcing a major rethink of its operation.

More than 1.5 million people were now displaced within Iraq itself according to figures from the Iraqi Government, UNHCR and NGOs, including 365,000 in the past eight months since the Samara bombings in February.

The UNHCR said the numbers of people leaving the country was also rising. The UNHCR was monitoring 2,000 people a day crossing into Syria alone.

"In the last three years we have been facilitating the repatriation of people to Iraq based on the assumption that things were stabilising," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond.

"The situation is continuing though and as even more people are being displaced we are going to have to shift our focus."

An increasing number of families were becoming dependent and destitute. Many of those fleeing had little money.

"The welcome mat is also wearing thin in some of the neighboring states which have been extremely generous in hosting so many Iraqis," said Redmond.

He said sectarian violence and the high number of killings was the main cause of the exodus which he described as mainly "silent" saying the true number was much higher than the figures available as the majority of people leaving did not register with UNHCR or other organizations.

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