DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) – Some 200 Iraqi refugees in Syria staged a sit-in outside the UN refugee offices in Damascus Tuesday to protest perceived delays in measures to resettle them in a third country.
The protesters were trying to highlight the plight of the refugees, many of whom fledÂ the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and are still waiting for resettlement six years later.
Â«Why do they keep us homeless?Â» read one of the placards held up by the protesters.
Raymond Khoushaba, a 36-year-old Iraqi refugee who was among the group Tuesday, said the protest aims to express outrage at the injustice caused by the UNHCR’s Â«derelictionÂ» in dealing with refugees’ resettlement applications.
Khoushaba said he had applied for resettlement a month after his arrival in Damascus in 2005. Â«Each time I go there, they tell me we will call you after six months, but they never did.Â» He complained the UNHCR was Â«unjustÂ» in handling applications, saying that a cousin who applied only nine months ago has already been resettled in the U.S.
The UNHCR denies the allegations and says it is doing its best to find resettlement countries for the Iraqis. Its acting representative in Damascus, Philippe Leclerc, told The Associated Press that more than 200,000 refugees have registered with the agency in the past few years, adding that only 10,500 of them have already been resettled.
Â«We assure them (the refugees) that the UNHCR policy hasn’t changed. We are still requesting states to provide space for resettlement,Â» he said.
The Syrian government says there are around 1.2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. The recent ebb in violence has lured small numbers of refugees to return, but the vast majority, particularly among Iraqi Christians, are staying put, citing persisting violence and the lack of basic services as their major concern.
Leclerc said there are 60,000 persons in the region, mostly in Syria, who are currently in need of resettlement, expressing hope that countries would increase their resettlement offers.