UN official: Europe has a ‘particular responsibility’ to help refugees’ homelands

The UN relief effort is struggling to cope and needs the international community to support its work even further. [Mustafa Khayat/Flickr]

The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Dominik Bartsch, has called upon the international community to increase its support of the UNHCR’s work. Otherwise, even more people could feel forced to make their way towards Europe. EURACTIV’s partner Tagesspiegel reports.

Dominik Bartsch is the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq.

Bartsch was interviewed by Ulrike Scheffer.

Mr Bartsch, you coordinate the relief effort in Iraq. How is the current situation?

Currently, 3.2 million Iraqis live as refugees in their own country. They live among ruins, in camps or with relatives. Overall, about a quarter of the Iraqi population is dependent on aid. That’s about 10 million people. Those people who take in refugees can’t do it without support. It’s becoming more and more difficult for us to achieve this. We need $500 million to see us through to the end of the year, but currently we only have 40% of that figure. Our estimates are based on a strict list of priorities, with only the most urgent basic needs taken into consideration.

Under these circumstances, what can you actually do for people?

High on our priority list, naturally, are food and water. Already, water delivery trucks don’t roll into town every day. Food rationing has been halved. We’ve had to severely limit the health care we provide. Altogether, we have had to close 77 health centres. In the meantime, cholera has broken out in Iraq. Likewise, the schools programme has been scaled back.

Your work is entirely dependent on voluntary contributions from the international community. Why doesn’t it do more?

One reason for this is certainly the fact that Iraq is known for being an oil producer. Therefore, there is a perception that it is not a poor country. But the situation has dramatically worsened since the war. The country is bearing the brunt of Islamic State’s aggression. The government just doesn’t have the resources. It can’t even pay its own employees’ salaries. The humanitarian crisis just isn’t on the radar of the outside world.

>>Read: UNHCR says EU must go beyond relocating 120,000 refugees

But aid isn’t just lacking Iraq. Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan are also going without.

Around the world, there are now five or six major humanitarian crises. The funds that donor states have provided to the UNHCR are exhausted. We can only make a fresh appeal for support to the international community.

Who do you see as having a particular obligation to provide support?

We rely on the solidarity of the international community. Certain states should certainly have a specific interest in tackling the current situation. Given the refugee crisis in Europe, I believe that the European countries have a particular responsibility.

>>Read: Gabriel: Germany calls upon international community to aid refugees’ homelands

What is the Gulf States’ contribution? Shouldn’t they also feel a particular sense of responsibility?

In the past year, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have supported us. But they are also bilaterally active. But it’s true that we do expect more from them in terms of support. Overall, the situation has to be tackled collaboratively. Particularly in the region itself.

Are Iraq’s internally displaced persons (IDPs) ready to pack their bags and leave, given the lack of aid?

The situation is perhaps not that dramatic. But one must see that the crisis is indeed getting worse. Many of the IDPs had hoped that the offensive against Islamic State would be successful and allow them to return to their homes. But in the last few months the likelihood of this happening anytime soon has become rather remote. They now see little future for their families. I’ve spoken to parents whose children haven’t been to school in over a year. Obviously, this is completely unacceptable.

Iraqi and Syrian refugees have a good status in Europe. Are the people making their way towards Europe well-educated?

Generally, Iraq is a country with a good level of education. Among the IDPs are academics. They represent a cross section of the population. These people could initially fall back on savings and provide for themselves and their families quite well, but now their reserves are running out. That is another reason why many people are deciding to make their way towards Europe.

>>Read: At least 850,000 will cross the Mediterranean this year, UN says

Ultimately, this means that if the international community does not support your work, the refugee crisis will only get worse.

We can’t rule that possibility out. It is entirely possible that more and more people will reach a point where they see no other option to leave and pin their hopes on reaching Europe.

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