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Thousands of Iraqi refugees gather outside the offices of a UN refugee agency in Damascus, Syria's capital, in February to register their names for obtaining refugee status. ((Bassem Tellawi/Associated Press))

The world isn't doing enough to help Iraqis displaced from their homes by fighting and violence, the United Nations refugee agency says.

More thantwo million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries while an equal number have left their homes but remain within Iraq, which has a total population of about 27 million.

Syria says it's host to around 1.2 million Iraqi refugees while 750,000 are in Jordan. Smaller numbers have gone to the Gulf states and other Arab countries.

Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, says at least half a million of the Iraqis in Syria and Jordan are children, who have evenmore pressing needs than their parents and other adults.

"Just think of how many schools those kids need, how many pencils and books, how much health care, inoculations, treatment for disease," Kessler told CBC News Online."This is an enormous burden on the [neighbouring]countries."

Syria, Jordan 'hospitable'

Syria and Jordan have been "extremely hospitable" to Iraqis and are still letting in new arrivals, but both are poor countries with limited natural resources and only a certain capacity to deal with such a large influx of people, he said.

Refugee women and children are under increasing social and economic pressures, UNHCR officials said.

"We're hearing about drug use, children working, prostitution among women and children," Kessler said. "That adds to the urgency.We need more help and much more attention than we're getting."

The refugee agency appealed for $63 million US in January and is inviting representatives from nearly 200 countries and dozens of charities and aid agencies to an emergency conference on the Iraqi refugee crisis next month in Geneva.

The conference will also highlight the problems posed by the nearly 1.8 million Iraqis who have left their homes but who remain in their own country. Many Arab Iraqis have fled the capital, Baghdad, for the safer Kurdish-controlled regions in the north of the country.

RonRedmond, a UNHCR official in Geneva, said the agency has already raised half of what it was seeking from donor countries and expects to launch fresh appeals this year. But that might not be enough, he warned.

Aid 'a drop in the ocean'

"Compared to the overall needs, it's a drop in the ocean. And providing that help is extremely difficult because of the dire security situation in much of the country," Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

Most displaced Iraqis — both inside and outside the country — are women and children, in part because the vast majority of people killed in sectarian violence, crime and crossfire in Iraq are men, according to UNHCR figures.

About 100 Iraqis are killed every day and as many as 500 injured, saidthe United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq.

The crisis began even before the start of theU.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the 1980s and '90s fled Saddam Hussein's brutal ruleand increasing hardship caused by UN sanctions against Baghdad. After the invasion, the exodus increasedto 50,000 people per month and even more moving within the country.

Some of the more stable Iraqi provinces nowstop people from Baghdad and other provinces from entering, citing a lack of services and resources for new arrivals.

Povertyalso plagues much of Iraq, with unemployment at around 50 per cent and half of the population living on less than$1 US a day.