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Middle East
Arab stars to aid Iraqi refugees
Regional tour hopes to raise awareness for displaced families.
Last Modified: 20 Mar 2008 10:20 GMT

The Syrian Red Crescent handed out school supplies to Iraqi refugees earlier this year [EPA]

A number of Arab entertainers have launched a worldwide fund-raising campaign to assist more than four million Iraqi refugees, both at home and abroad.

The brainchild of Naseer Shamma, a popular Iraqi musician, the three-month campaign kicked off last week under the slogan "Arabs hand in hand with Iraqis".

Shamma told Al Jazeera: "Many Arab artists mostly from Egypt, Syria and Tunisia are taking part in the campaign to raise over $120 million for Iraqi refugees. Fund-raising will be based in Cairo but a group of artists will tour Arab capitals to rally support."

In Iraq, the donated funds will be used to build schools and medical facilities for thousands of internally displaced refugees.

In neighbouring countries, such as Jordan and Syria, where some two million Iraqis have fled, funds will go directly to the governments of the host countries in consultation with the Iraqi government and in co-ordination with international organisations.

"There are those outside Iraq because of sectarian violence that continues in cities like [Baquba in] Diyala, Mosul and in some areas in the capital Baghdad," Shamma said.

A benefit football match between Egypt and Iraq, African and Asian champions in 2007, will also be the highlight of the campaign.

"Shubair Ahmed Shubair, the former Egyptian renowned goalkeeper, will be responsible for organising the match," Shamma added.

International help

The Arab League, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organisation, the World Food Programme, and the International Committe of the Red Cross (ICRC) have pledged their help for the campaign.

Iraqi refugees received government aid in
Baghdad after returning from Syria [EPA]

All proceeds and contributions will be deposited in a bank account under the patronage of the Arab League in Cairo.

Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, said: "[This] campaign is the first and foremost show of support and solidarity for displaced Iraqis."

"We certainly hope and count on the generosity of Arabs to lend a supporting hand to the most vulnerable of Iraqis in neighbouring countries."

According to organisers, $280,000 was raised on the first day of the campaign with a large number of donations coming from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.

Unique step

The Iraqi government has said it supports the initiative and has pledged to become the greatest contributor to the refugee assistance fund.

Saleem al-Jibouri, a member of the Iraqi parliament, told Al Jazeera: "While the Iraqi parliament gives priority to the issue of refugees and tries to offer practical solutions in a complicated situation, we see this campaign as a unique step that has an integrated contribution from people who have nothing to do with politics."

"We have to confess that the Iraqi government and other political blocs have failed to contend with the refugees' issue but there has been much improvement in security in comparison with months ago," he said.

But Hazim al-Shimari, an Iraqi political analyst, said that the Baghdad government is unable to mount rehabilitation initiatives because of internal in-fighting and sectarian tensions.

He said: "This initiative comes at a time when the US-backed Iraqi government, which has been built on a sectarian basis, is divided. Its political blocs are divided, the government is living a sense of alienation, indifference and irresponsibility."

But al-Shimari praised Shamma's campaign, saying: "There are still honourable Iraqis inside and outside the country who have to-the-point vision and realise the sufferings of our people."

Few headed home

In September, as Syria began to implement a restrictive entry visa system on Iraqis, the Baghdad government launched a repatriation campaign which coincided with improved security in some neighbourhoods of the capital. 

In video

Al Jazeera reports on Iraqi refugees returning home 

In early January, the Iraqi Red Crescent Society said that a total of 46,000 Iraqis had returned between September and December 2007.

The International Organisation for Migration, an independent monitor, said that figure represents a "minute percentage" of the more than three million who have fled sectarian violence.

Saad Raheem Abdullah, an Iraqi refugee whose family lives in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, told Al Jazeera he hopes the new campaign to help refugees will deliver on its promises.

"I and many Iraqi families are not optimistic to hear about aid or donations as we have lost hope because of the many pledges we always hear from the Iraqi government, the United Nations and the Arabs."

"After waiting and hearing of the help we are meant to receive we feel as if we are chasing after a mirage."

Walk for Iraq

Other Iraqis have also launched campaigns to raise awareness of the plight of their compatriots.

Yazen Al-Safi, co-founder of the New Zealand chapter of the UK-based Walk for Iraq organisation, told Al Jazeera that volunteers throughout the world have been "walking" to raise awareness and funds for displaced Iraqis.

Some celebrities in the campaign

- Latifa, singer
- Nur al-Sharif, actor
- Nabila Obeid, actress
- Youssra, actress
- Khaled Selim, actor
- Jamal Sulaiman, actor
- Amal Arafa, actor
- Majd al-Qassim,  entertainer
- Sumaya al-Khashab, actress

Walk for Iraq was initially pioneered by Nadia Al-Shadhir in the UK to fund life-saving activities in Iraq. Due to its success, the movement was picked up in New Zealand and Canada.

In 2007, the organisation managed to raise more than $75,000 which were donated to the ICRC, Refugees International, and the Iraq Appeal fund of the Canadian Red Cross.

"I came to Doha, my first destination, and will contact Qatar's Red Crescent Committee to raise funds which will go to help Iraqi refugees," Al-Safi said.    

"We have a team that headed to United Arab Emirates to collect funds in co-ordination and co-operation with Emirate's Red Crescent Committee."

But Shamma understands not everyone is able to donate money.

"Whoever was unable to provide financial support, we ask them to pray to Allah [God] to relieve the plight of Iraqis," he said.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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