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UNHCR: Iraqi Refugees Suffer From Poverty, Disease

By Lisa Schlein
15 December 2007

Three research studies show that Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are living under precarious circumstances. The UN refugee agency says the studies, which were conducted over the last few months, find many Iraqi refugees are barely able to make ends meet and often resort to extreme measures to survive. Lisa Schlein reports from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) says more than 2 million Iraqis have fled the country, most of them to neighboring Syria and Jordan.

More than 3,500 Iraqis were surveyed in Syria. The study finds most of these refugees are running out of money. About a third say they have enough money to last for three months or less, while 24 percent say they are relying on remittances from family abroad to survive.

UN refugee spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, tells VOA that 10 percent of the children of the families surveyed in Syria are working.

"Some Iraqi families have been forced to resort to survival sex -the women in the family, maybe the daughters. And this is done purely and only because they do not have the financial resources to survive. And it is a very grim reality of the situation that the Iraqi refugees are facing," said Pagonis.

A similar study was conducted in Lebanon among more than 2,000 individuals. The results reveal nearly 80 percent of Iraqis entered the country illegally, with 60 percent of them 29 years old or younger.

The study says the situation of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon remains precarious with the majority of those who are there illegally subject to arrest and detention.

As in the case of Syria, a study in Jordan finds a majority of Iraqi refugees are living on savings or receive transfers. It says the depletion of their savings increases their risk of becoming vulnerable.

Jennifer Pagonis says there is a high prevalence of chronic disease among Iraqi refugees in all three countries.

"And, that they do not seem to be getting the medical treatment that they need to treat these chronic illnesses," she said. "It is also deeply worrying to see that so many have been victims of violence and torture and that this has clearly had a terrific impact upon them."

Pagonis says early next month, the Centers for Disease Control in the United States will provide a fuller analysis of the trauma and depression experienced by Iraqi refugees.

She says preliminary readings of the results show many Iraqis are facing considerable stress and trauma as a result of having been abused.

She says the reason thousands of Iraqis have chosen to return home has more to do with their tenuous situation as refugees than with the improving security situation in Iraq.

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