GENEVA (Reuters) - People fleeing violence in Iraq have begun to move into atrocious makeshift camps on the fringes of cities such as Najaf, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday.
Andrew Harper, coordinator of the UNHCR’s Iraq Support Unit, said the sites were a result of certain governorates sealing off their regions to newcomers.
“Camps are one of the worst things you can have, because you are not going to have proper provision of water ... of sewage, of shelter, of security,” he said. “They are atrocious.”
At one site near the holy Shi‘ite city of Najaf, hosting 200 families, people were drinking from a polluted water source and many women were urinating and defecating inside their huts because they were afraid of being attacked outside, he said.
Without improved access to food and other emergency aid, Harper said such people would be extremely susceptible to diseases such as typhoid and cholera, particularly in summer.
“The more vulnerable are likely to die,” he said.
Some 4 million Iraqis have left their homes since U.S.-led forces invaded Baghdad in 2003, toppling Saddam Hussein and unleashing deep sectarian tensions.
Half fled to neighboring states such as Syria and Jordan, and 2 million moved to other areas in Iraq, overwhelming host communities where housing and jobs are scarce.
Many Iraqi children are not in school and Iraqi women, many of whom have lost their families’ breadwinners to violence, are increasingly turning to prostitution to get money to buy water and food, according to the UNHCR.
Overall, Harper said the millions of displaced had not received the support they need from their resource-strapped government or the international community.
“As far as assistance goes, it is very, very poor, if not pathetic,” he told journalists in Geneva.
“All we are asking for is a fair share be given to the humanitarian agencies to alleviate what is becoming an insufferable situation for some 4 million Iraqis.”
The United Nations is seeking to set up “mini distribution centers” near the new camps for displaced Iraqis, which Harper said have so far been concentrated in the south of the country but would likely soon emerge in greater numbers around Baghdad.
He said the UNHCR, which initially set a $60 million budget for Iraq in 2007, would appeal for more funds in July.
The U.N. agency is consulting with the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union to secure asylum for 20,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqis this year.
Separately, the International Organisation for Migration appealed for $85 million to help internally displaced Iraqis, saying greater numbers would be forced to flee the country unless growing food shortages can be alleviated.