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UN Resumes Food Relief For Iraqi Refugees In Syria

UN agencies resume food relief for Iraqi refugees in Syria

26 June 2008 - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN refugee agency said today that they have resumed food distributions to tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees in the Syrian capital, Damascus, after a two-month interruption.

The first 1500 families received food baskets containing basic foodstuffs on Tuesday and Wednesday. At least 150,000 people are expected to benefit over the next month.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has opened a new distribution warehouse in Douma in the capital, after an earlier distribution site was closed down.

"The idea is that we centralize the assistance we offer to refugees living in Damascus. We are effectively offering a field service to refugees so that they can collect food and financial assistance from the same place where they can meet community service staff and protection officers," said UNHCR Senior Programme Officer Ayman Gharaibeh.

A total of 4.7 million Iraqis have been uprooted as a result of the crisis in their country. Of these over 2 million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries - mostly Syria and Jordan - while 2.7 million are internally displaced inside Iraq.

Rising food and fuel prices, the seasonal rise in rents and diminishing savings are resulting in more and more Iraqi refugees becoming reliant upon assistance from the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations.

A former gold merchant called Mohamed told UNHCR that food assistance was now his only source of support. "We can't work, can't travel, can't dream. At least keep me alive and, please, don't ever delay this distribution again," he said.

But UNHCR says it is facing a major challenge in meeting the growing needs. The agency has only received half of the funds it needs for its operations in Syria this year. Without additional funds, outreach work with the Iraqi population is likely to be limited.

ENDS

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