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UN: 40,000 people flee Iraq every month
Yahoo News/AFP

October 13, 2006

GENEVA (AFP) -Iraq is suffering from a "steady, silent exodus" of more than 40,000 people a month fleeing violence and the flow of refugees towards Europe is growing, the UN refugee agency has said.

Asylum claims by Iraqis in mainly European industralised countries in the first six months of the year grew by more than 50 percent compared to the first half of 2005 to reach 8,100, Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Friday.

Iraqis are now the largest single national group seeking asylum in European countries, he told journalists.

About 1.6 million Iraqis are now abroad. UNHCR staff monitoring the border say that at least 40,000 Iraqis are crossing into Syria every month, reversing a previous trend of returns.

More than 365,000 people have fled their homes in Iraqi since sectarian violence intensified February, the United Nations said this week.

"Many of them are moving on to other countries in what could be termed a steady, silent exodus," Redmond told journalists.

"Tens of thousands are moving on to Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, the Gulf states and Europe," he added.

About 50,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes every month, according to the UNHCR, bringing the total of internally displaced to 1.5 million. In some central areas the number of displaced has increased ten-fold since the begining of the year, the agency added.

"The enormous scale of the needs, the ongoing violence and the difficulties in reaching the displaced make it a problem that is practically beyond the capacity of humanitarian agencies, including UNHCR," Redmond warned.

"The longer this goes on, the more difficult it gets as both the internally displaced and their host communities run our of resources," he added.

The number of Iraqis returning home from neighbouring countries has also slowed sharply from 50,000 last year to 1,000 so far this year, Redmond said.

An estimated 500,000 Iraqis are in Jordan and some 450,000 are in Syria.

The numbers include Iraqis who were exiled before the US-led invasion in 2003 and had remained outside the country.

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