LONDON (AFP) — The international community has not faced up to the scale of the Iraqi refugee crisis, leaving Syria and Jordan to deal with the exodus, Amnesty International said in a report published Monday.
The London-based human-rights group described the vast numbers of Iraqi refugees as the world's "fastest growing displacement crisis."
According to Amnesty's estimates, there are about 4.2 million displaced Iraqis, 2.2 million of whom are within Iraq, with the vast majority of the rest in Syria and Jordan.
The exodus is the biggest population movement in the Middle East since the state of Israel was created in 1948 and Palestinians displaced, Amnesty said.
"The desperate humanitarian situation of displaced Iraqis, including the refugees and those who remain within Iraq, has been largely ignored by the world," said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme.
"A deepening humanitarian crisis and greater political instability across the wider region are looming, unless the international community meets its obligation to shoulder a fair share of the responsibility for protecting and assisting Iraqi refugees."
Some 1.4 million displaced Iraqis are in Syria, with a further 500,000 in Jordan, with both countries, absent of any meaningful international support, struggling to deal with the massive influx and considering closing off their borders, thereby cutting off the principal means of leaving war-torn Iraq.
According to Amnesty, those numbers increase by an average of 2,000 people a day.
"We are very concerned that the new visa requirements being introduced by Syria and Jordan will prevent Iraqis receiving the protection they need," Smart said.
"We urge both governments to keep their borders open to those fleeing for their lives."
He added: "However, other states must do more to assist these two countries by providing increased financial, technical and in-kind bilateral assistance to enable them to meet the health, schooling and other needs of the refugees, and by accepting greater number of especially vulnerable refugees for resettlement."
The report, titled "Millions in flight: the Iraqi refugee crisis", notes that from the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 until 2006, the number of refugees fleeing to third countries fell by more than half, despite an increase in political violence in the country.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 1,425 Iraqis were allowed to settle in third countries in 2003, compared to just 404 last year.
Amnesty also said that some states were taking what it described as "negative steps" by forcibly returning some Iraqis to the country, cutting off assistance for those in the process of seeking asylum, and revoking the refugee status of some Iraqis.
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