Iraq's displaced have been forgotten, says top UNHCR official

Not enough is being done to help millions after the defeat of ISIS, refugee agency’s Mena director tells Dubai conference

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 12, 2019: Amin Awad, UNHCR MENA Director and Coordinator for Syria during the opening session of Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) Conference. Tuesday the 12th of March 2019 at Dubai International Convention Centre, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Millions of refugees, migrants and displaced people in Iraq have been forgotten, one of the world’s leading humanitarian experts said.

Amin Awad, the UN Refugee Agency’s Middle East and North Africa director said Iraq was suffering because the world’s attention had moved on now that the country was no longer at war.

Speaking to The National on the opening day of the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development, conference, Mr Awad advised the international community that more awareness needed to be paid to the two million Iraqis who are still displaced.

“I am very concerned that after the defeat of ISIS [in Iraq] almost two years ago, we still have two to three million people displaced there,” Mr Awan said.

“I don’t think enough efforts are being made for those people to return.”

The UAE received special praise from Mr Awad for its humanitarian support.

In April last year, it was announced that the UAE was funding the $50.4 million (Dh185m) rebuild of the Grand Al Nuri Mosque and its leaning minaret in Mosul.

The mosque was destroyed, along with large parts of Mosul, by ISIS in 2017. Mr Awad said that although the extremist group had been defeated in Iraq, there was still work to be done to rehome people affected by the conflict.

More than 700,000 people were displaced from Mosul alone in a year of fighting that also destroyed 40,000 homes.

Mr Awad said that millions were still suffering but the attention of the world’s news media had been diverted elsewhere.

“The pages of history turn very fast. Iraq was on the news every hour, on the hour, when the war was going on,” he said.

“Iraq has mostly been forgotten about now because of short attention spans. The international community faces an uphill struggle to create some traction and raise awareness of what is happening there.”

The situation in Syria was another issue that Mr Awad said was crucial to stability in the region.

Since 2011, more than 5.6 million people fled the country, with a further 6.6 million estimated to be internally ­displaced.

Lebanon alone is home to more than a million Syrian refugees, 70 per cent of whom are said to be living below the poverty line.

Turkey hosts the highest number of Syrian refugees – about 3.3 million.

Refugees are scattered across urban and rural communities, with only 8 per cent said to be living in refugee camps.

“The situation in Syria is the question of the hour,” Mr Awad said. “Things have become very complicated because things are politicised. The issue of refugee displacement is always divisive.”

He said that although the war was “largely over”, the country had been devastated.

“There is really a need to support the communities there. We don’t care about the political issues, we have to help the people who are suffering,” Mr Awad said.

“We are talking about the basic infrastructure of providing health care and education and creating communities where people can go.”

Mr Awad said that Syria had already lost an entire generation and the consequences of losing another could be devastating for the country.

“There are people who were six or seven when they left Syria and are now 16,” he said.

“They never went to school. There is a need for a big push to put Syrian children in school. If we don’t, there is a danger we will end up with another radicalised generation.”