(AFP) – Feb 16, 2008
BAGHDAD (AFP) — The UN refugee agency said Saturday it has boosted its international presence in Iraq and will intensify its efforts to support the war-torn country's two million internally displaced people.
It will also work with the Baghdad government to prepare the return of millions of refugees from abroad, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Antonio Guterres said.
He said the number of international staff in Baghdad will be increased from two to five and the country representative moved to the Iraqi capital from Amman.
"Our deputy representative in Iraq is already sitting in Baghdad and he will meet together with the government (to discuss) matters of common concern," Guterres told a joint news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
Guterres added that he had appointed a new representative, whose name would be submitted to the Iraqi government for its approval, who would sit in Baghdad rather than in the Jordanian capital as has been the case in the past.
"It is here that the essential work needs to be done in close cooperation with the government," he said.
"We are going to intensify our actions first of all in support to the Iraqi displaced inside the country."
One of the key tasks of the new team, he added, would be to prepare the return of refugees from abroad.
The UNHCR had proposed to the government that it conduct a joint assessement with Iraqi officials "in order to analyse the conditions for the return to take place and to be successful."
"It is in our common interest that the return should take place orderly, in safety, in dignity and in a sustainable way," Guterres said.
Zebari said the government welcomed the increased commitment from the UNHCR.
"I think it's very good news. We are prepared as a government to work very closely," he said.
Zebari confirmed discussions had been held on the possibility of conducting a joint assessment of conditions necessary for the safe return of refugees.
"There are still a number of standards that need to be met," he said.
Guterres, who this week visited Jordan and Syria where the bulk of the more than two million Iraqi refugees are based, said a political solution is needed to the problem.
"There is never a humanitarian solution for a humanitarian problem. The solution is always political," he said.
"The plight of Iraqi refugees will end with national reconciliation and with their effective reintegration in the country and their contribution to the reconstruction of the country.
"That is our core objective."
After a sudden wave of returning refugees, mainly from Syria, in the last three months of 2007 lured by news that levels of violence had dropped, the trend has been reversed and Iraqis are once again leaving for Syria in greater numbers than are returning, the UNHCR said earlier this month.
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