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As Jordan Mulls Closing Syria Border, UNHCR Says "Bad Idea," Srebrenica Cited

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 17 -- After Jordan's prime minster Abdullah Ensour said that his country will close its border with Syria when (or really, if) Bashar al Assad falls, Inner City Press asked the UN Refugee Agency's regional coordinator Panos Moumtzis if UNHCR thinks this is a good idea.

  No, Moumtzis told Inner City Press, it is a bad idea, we've not had a positive experience with safe havens. He cited Srebrenica, saying the UN is "not proud."

  But, Inner City Press asked Moumtzis, will UNHCR convey this experience and advice to Jordan?

  "We have a good relationship with Jordan," Moumtzis answered. He went on to say that the countries hosting refugees are wondering if they are being "taken for granted."

  It seems UNHCR is already walking on eggshells with Jordan, or estimating their costs at double that of Lebanon, per refugee. The reason, Moumtzis said in another answer, is that Jordan decreed that all refugees must be in camps, in part to prevent "radicalization."

  Moumtzis also described five hospitals right next to each other in Zaatari camp in Jordan, built by and to show the beneficence of, among others, Morocco, France and Jordan itself. Five hospitals there but few elsewhere; few other services in the camp.

  As to Iraq, Moumtzis said most of those coming in from Syria are Kurds. One of Iraq's border crossings has been closed. Moumtzis described the delicate ethnic and religious politics.

  Inner City Press wanted to ask about the reported policy of NOT letting Sunni refugees in Turkey's Hatay region, with its Alawite population. But the event, one in a new "brown bag" series by the UN Department of Public Information, was strangely run when it came to questions, as was the first in the series with outgoing Security chief Gregory Starr.

  The series is one welcome reform by DPI. But will there be more, from those already raised? Watch this site.

Footnote: Panos Moumtzis mentioned UNRWA, where he previously worked. He's also served as humanitarian coordinator in Libya, as (speaking of Srebrenica and UN failures) in Rwanda.

  His candor was appreciated, and his dedication as reflected (or recounted) by a recent 2 am visit to a camp. So much so one wanted to ask his views on the treatment of refugees and immigrants in his native Greece. He is "doing the circuit" in New York, including the International Peace Institute if only via webcast. We'll see.

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