As violence continues to make life intolerable for many people in Iraq, Pope Benedict XVI, head of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, has made an appeal to the international community for direct assistance to those forced to leave their homes as a result of the "dramatic situation" in the country.
According to the United Nations and other agencies, an estimated 600,000 Iraqi refugees are trapped in Syria alone. Many more are fleeing every day. The minority Christian community is among those being decimated by the effects of chaos and daily slaughter.
The Pontiff declared, in a weekly address: "My thoughts go today to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria, obliged to leave their country because of the dramatic situation that is being lived there."
He continued: "Caritas-Syria [the regional branch of the international Catholic relief agency] is going all-out to assist [the refugees]. However, I am launching an appeal to the sensitivity of private individuals, international organisations and governments so that they will make further efforts to address their most urgent needs."
According to a report published by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on 2 December 2006, there are at least 1.6 million Iraqis internally displaced with between 1.6 million to 1.8 million others located in neighbouring states.
"UNHCR estimates that there are some 700,000 Iraqis in Jordan; 500,000-600,000 in Syria; 100,000 in Egypt; 20,000 to 40,000 in Lebanon; 54,000 in Iran; and tens of thousands more within the region and further afield," the report explained.
A report published today (19 December 2006) by the globally respected UK foreign affairs think-tank, Chatham House, says that the outcome of the 2003 war and occupation of Iraq has been calamity for many involved and a further destabilisation of the region. It also claims that British PM Tony Blair's attempt to influence US policy from an allied position does not seem to have worked.