Violence, insecurity may drive 1 million Iraqis from their homeland

Unrelenting violence and insecurity in Iraq could cause as many as 1 million Iraqis to flee their homes this year, the world’s migration body said Friday.

“The numbers of people that are being displaced are increasing every day,” said Jemini Pandaya, spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration. “The security situation is not improving. It’s not changing.”

Pandaya said the organization’s estimate was made “on the assumption that security conditions will continue much as they are.”

The possibility of neighboring countries, such as Syria, closing their borders would mean even more of the displaced would only be able to get as far as other parts of Iraq.

On Thursday, the U.N. refugee agency appealed to the European Union to do more to protect refugees fleeing Iraq, saying the war was the cause of the biggest displacement of people in the Middle East in recent history.

“The humanitarian situation is grave and deteriorating. States should respond to the protection needs of Iraqi asylum seekers on their territory,” said Madeline Garlick, a spokeswoman for the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Brussels.

That appeal came a day after Washington announced it will allow about 7,000 Iraqis into the United States this year — up from 202 in 2006 — and will pay more to help Iraq’s neighbors cope with the surge of refugees.

As the bloodshed in Iraq has increased, European governments have come under increasing pressure to open their doors to asylum-seekers. Many are worried that an escalation in violence in 2007 could generate a fresh wave of refugees.

The U.N. appeal came as the EU announced it would contribute $13 million more for Iraqi refugees. About 60 percent will go to help those who have fled to Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press