The UN refugee agency held a two-day conference in Geneva this week to try and work out how to support and to protect nearly four million refugees and displaced people in Iraq and surrounding countries.

The Voice of America quotesthe UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, as saying the conference accomplished what it set out to do with the UNHCR receiving strong political commitment from all governments to assist the refugees and the countries that are hosting them. “There was a unanimous recognition of the generosity of the host countries and especially of Syria and Jordan and of the huge impact that Iraqi refugees have had in their economy and their society and the clear commitment for burden-sharing,” said Guterres.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has not rated the conference worthy of a press release giving details of whether Australia will be among the 60 nations sharing the burden. We might be in the coalition of the willing but the massive refugee problem created by the war in Iraq has received little attention. AusAID gives the subject one line on its website detailing $5 million provided to the International Organisation for Migration to assist refugees and internally displaced persons.

Mr Downer, in a statement back in February, put the figure at $6 million but he showed no appreciation of the size of the refugee problem. Instead of talking about the millions of people trying to escape the current carnage he said “hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were displaced under the Saddam Hussein regime due to war, human rights abuses, and the deliberate expulsion of citizens from their homes.”

Peter Fray

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