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UN Seeks to Help Millions Iraqi Refugees
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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Tuesday opened an international conference in Geneva to address the humanitarian needs of about 4 million Iraqi refugees and internal displaced persons.

More than 450 representatives from over 60 countries and international organizations are attending the two-day conference, whose aim is to focus on the plight of displaced Iraqis in both Iraq and neighboring countries.

At the opening of the meeting, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that the humanitarian crisis in Iraq can no longer be ignored.

"The humanitarian dimension of the problem can no longer be overlooked ... almost 4 million Iraqis are watching us today," Guterres said.

"Their needs are as obvious as the moral imperative to help. All of us - representatives of governments, international organizations and civil society - are now compelled to act," he added.

Guterres, who chaired the conference, was joined in the opening session by UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq Ashraf Qazi, and the Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Angelo Gnaedinger.

Participants also viewed a video message from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presented by the Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva, Sergei Ordzhonikidze.

"The scale of the problem speaks for itself," Guterres said in his opening address. "One in eight Iraqis has been driven from their homes. Some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced inside the country and up to 2 million others have fled abroad."

He urged the international community to lend the necessary help to Syria and Jordan, which are hosting the largest number of Iraqi refugees and "are straining under this extraordinary burden."

Guterres stressed the humanitarian focus of the meeting, but also noted that humanitarian problems are "symptoms of a disease whose cure can only be political."

"All relevant actors are essential to that political solution. We welcome the recent gathering of concerned states in Baghdad on March 10. We look forward to similar initiatives," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency April 18, 2007)

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