Iraq top UN envoy welcomes Basra calm displacement continues

At the same time, the UN refugee agency released figures showing the level of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the violence-wracked country had reached nearly 3 million, but was rising more slowly than in previous years. Staffan de Mistura, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Iraq, “hopes the return of calm will allow the Iraqi Government, the United Nations and other bodies to accelerate the delivery of emergency aid into the affected areas,” according to a press release from the UN mission there – known as UNAMI. Mr. de Mistura added that the Government’s quick response to Mr. al Sadr’s stand-down call was a positive step and welcomed the Iraqi Government’s creation of an emergency cell to deal with the humanitarian situation following the recent violence. “Coordination with the international community is essential in order to support Iraqi-led efforts to reduce suffering among the civilian population,” he said. The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, David Shearer, arrived in Basra yesterday to work with the Iraqi authorities and the emergency cell to assess the situation and develop an appropriate response. Expressing concern over human rights violations committed during the armed clashes, Mr. de Mistura emphasized to all those involved their obligations to minimize harm to civilians, urging all parties to promote the rule of law in the country, UNAMI said. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that of the estimated 2.8 million IDPs in Iraq, 1.2 million were displaced before 2006 and more than 1.5 million were displaced in 2006 and 2007. “Less than one per cent have been displaced in 2008,” spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said, introducing the new report of UNHCR’s working group on displacement. The large increase between the current count and that released on 31 December 2007 – a difference of 300,000 people – was due to an improved database. Displacement is continuing at a much lower pace because communities had become more homogenous, media campaigns had begun, security incidents had decreased and many families simply could no longer afford to move, among other factors, she said. New secondary displacement has been reported in Baghdad, however, involving Iraqis who decided to return from neighbouring countries at the end of last year – often after having run out of resources – and could not reclaim their properties. The report estimates that the number of IDPs in need of adequate shelter and food is now higher than 1 million, with an equal number having no regular income, and some 300,000 with no access to clean water and other basic services. “In January UNHCR appealed for $261 million for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced. So far, we have received just over a third of that amount,” Ms. Pagonis noted, adding that assisting many of the IDPs is still extremely difficult because of insecurity. 1 April 2008The top United Nations envoy in Iraq today welcomed Shiite leader Muqtada al Sadr’s call for a “stand-down of armed presences” in Basra and other areas where fighting has flared in the past week.

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