More than 4 million Iraqis have now been displaced by violence in the country, the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday, warning that the figure will continue to rise.

The number of Iraqis who have fled the country as refugees has risen to 2.2 million, said Jennifer Pagonis, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. A further 2 million have been driven from their homes but remain within the country, increasingly in “impoverished shanty towns,” she said.

Pagonis said UNHCR is receiving “disturbing reports” of regional authorities doing little to provide displaced people with food, shelter and other basic services.

“Individual governorates inside Iraq are becoming overwhelmed by the needs of the displaced,” Pagonis told reporters in Geneva, where UNHCR has its headquarters.

More than half of Iraq’s 18 governorates are preventing displaced people from entering their territories, either by stopping them at checkpoints or by refusing to register them for food aid and other basic services.

Astrid van Genderen Stort of UNHCR said checkpoints are increasing in northern governorates, specifically along the “green line” that divides Kurdish-controlled zones from the rest of the country. Displaced people are also being stopped on the roads leading out of the cities of Karbala and Najaf, which are both south of Baghdad and considered holy by Shiite Muslims.

While many of the checkpoints were originally established for security reasons, they are being increasingly used to prevent displaced Iraqis from moving around the country, van Genderen Stort said.

Almost half of all displaced people have no access to official food distribution programs, according to U.N. estimates.


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