UN refugee chief warns of NIraq refugee crisis

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BRUSSELS, Oct 16 (Reuters) The UN's refugee chief warned today of the danger of a refugee crisis in northern Iraq, a day after Turkey's cabinet asked parliament for permission to launch an attack there against Kurdish separatists.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres also urged the international community to do more to help Jordan and Syria deal with masses of Iraqi refugees, including by taking in some of the refugees themselves.

''The northern governorate, or Kurdistan ... has been the most stable area of Iraq,'' Guterres said during a visit to Brussels.

''It is an area also where you find Iraqis from the south and central Iraq who came seeking security.

''I can only express our very deep concern about any development that might lead to meaningful displacements of population in that sensitive area,'' Guterres told reporters.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan asked parliament this week for permission to launch cross-border offensives into northern Iraq following a spate of Kurdish separatist attacks. Approval is expected tomorrow.

Erdogan said today that parliament's permission did not necessarily mean a military incursion was imminent. ''We will act at the right time and under the right conditions,'' he said.

The United States and the European Union have urged restraint from Turkey, a NATO member strategically located between Europe and the Middle East. Turkey argues that the United States and Iraq have not done enough to quell Kurdish separatist activity.

Countries in the region, particularly Jordan and Syria, have been overwhelmed by more than 2 million Iraqi refugees.

''There is an extremely heavy impact on the economies, on the societies,'' Guterres warned. ''Without a more meaningful international support it will be very difficult for these countries to cope.'' Guterres said the presence of large number of refugees in cities in these two countries affected the housing market, had caused electricity cuts in Syria over the summer, as well as water shortages in Jordan.

Guterres declined to give concrete figures on what help was needed but said it should be a combination of help on the ground and of taking in a number of refugees in the EU and elsewhere.

''We need the international community to be much more active,'' he said, warning that otherwise there was a risk of ''asylum fatigue,'' a reference to the possibility of Jordan and Syria toughening conditions of entry and rights for refugees.

REUTERS RSA RAI2208

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