Iraq: no man's land refugees

Briefing Notes, 10 December 2004

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 December 2004, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

A group of 185 Iranian Kurd refugees arrived in Sweden on Thursday, after spending more than 18 months in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan. They join another 202 Iranian Kurds who arrived in Stockholm two weeks ago after being accepted for resettlement in Sweden.

The permanent resettlement of these 387 refugees is the result of months of effort by UNHCR. However, the refugee agency wants to draw attention to the plight of some nine hundred refugees who remain near the Jordanian border 760 of them still in the no-man's-land, another 130 in Ruweished camp inside Jordan. In both locations, refugees have been living under very harsh conditions since the spring of 2003, staying under tents in a desert area subject to extreme climatic variations. They now face a second winter of freezing temperatures with no immediate solution in sight.

Most of the refugees in Ruweished and in the no man's land are Iranian Kurds and Palestinians who had previously been in exile in Iraq, but fled to escape the fighting and unrest last year. Since then, UNHCR has submitted 880 cases for resettlement to such nations as the United States, Australia and the Scandinavian countries. Some 500 of these requests are still pending.

UNHCR also wrote to many Arab countries requesting them to grant shelter, even on a temporary basis, to Palestinian refugees stuck at the Jordanian border. Last year, Jordan itself accepted to give temporary asylum to 386 Palestinians with Jordanian spouses while 250 Palestinians chose to leave Ruweished to go back to Iraq. The refugee agency has undertaken to assist countries with the financial cost of hosting Palestinian refugees and we hope for a positive reaction from Arab states.

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Refugees prepare for winter in Jordan's Za'atari camp

Life in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp is hard. Scorching hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, this flat, arid patch of land near the border with Syria was almost empty when the camp opened in July. Today, it hosts more than 31,000 Syrians who have fled the conflict in their country.

The journey to Jordan is perilous. Refugees cross the Syrian-Jordan border at night in temperatures that now hover close to freezing. Mothers try to keep their children quiet during the journey. It is a harrowing experience and not everyone makes it across.

In Za'atari, refugees are allocated a tent and given sleeping mats, blankets and food on arrival. But as winter approaches, UNHCR is working with partners to ensure that all refugees will be protected from the elements. This includes upgrading tents and moving the most vulnerable to prefabricated homes, now being installed.

Through the Norwegian Refugee Council, UNHCR has also distributed thousands of winter kits that include thermal liners, insulated ground pads and metal sheeting to build sheltered kitchen areas outside tents. Warmer clothes and more blankets will also be distributed where needed.

Refugees prepare for winter in Jordan's Za'atari camp

Refuge on the Sixth Floor: Urban Refugees in Jordan

For most people, the iconic image of refugees is thousands of people living in row upon row of tents in a sprawling emergency camp in the countryside. But the reality today is that more than half of the world's refugees live in urban areas, where they face many challenges and where it is more difficult to provide them with protection and assistance.

That's the case in Jordan, where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have bypassed camps near the border and sought shelter in towns and cities like Amman, the national capital. The UN refugee agency is providing cash support to some 11,000 Syrian refugee families in Jordan's urban areas, but a funding shortage is preventing UNHCR from providing any more.

In this photo set, photographer Brian Sokol, follows eight families living on the sixth floor of a nondescript building in Amman. All fled Syria in search of safety and some need medical care. The images were taken as winter was descending on the city. They show what it is like to face the cold and poverty, and they also depict the isolation of being a stranger in a strange land.

The identities of the refugees are masked at their request and their names have been changed. The longer the Syria crisis remains unresolved, the longer their ordeal - and that of more than 1 million other refugees in Jordan and other countries in the region.

Refuge on the Sixth Floor: Urban Refugees in Jordan

Flight by Night: Syrian Refugees Risk the Crossing to Jordan in the Dark

Every night, hundreds of refugees flee from Syria via dozens of unofficial border crossing points and seek shelter in neighbouring Jordan. Many feel safer crossing in the dark, but it remains a risky journey by day or night. They arrive exhausted, scared and traumatized, but happy to be in the welcoming embrace of Jordan and away from the conflict in their country. Some arrive with bad injuries, many carry belongings. A large proportion are women and children. Observers at the border at night see these eerie silhouettes approaching out of the dark. Earlier this week, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was among these observers. He and his UNHCR colleagues were moved by what they saw and heard at the border and earlier in Za'atri refugee camp, where arrivals are taken by the Jordanian military. The majority of the Syrian refugees move to Jordan's cities, towns and villages. Guterres has urged donors to set up special funds for the Syria crisis, warning of disaster if more humanitarian funding is not forthcoming soon. Photographer Jared Kohler was at the border when Guterres visited. These are his images.

Flight by Night: Syrian Refugees Risk the Crossing to Jordan in the Dark

A Lifetime of Waiting: Born in Hagadera camp, Sarah has never once left its confines.Play video

A Lifetime of Waiting: Born in Hagadera camp, Sarah has never once left its confines.

A Lifetime of Waiting: Born in Hagadera camp, Sarah has never once left its confines.
Iraq: UNHCR Aid Airlift Play video

Iraq: UNHCR Aid Airlift

UNHCR launches one of its largest aid pushes with an airlift of emergency relief supplies to Iraq's Kurdistan region. Aid is being brought in by air, land and sea to help close to a half million people who have been displaced by violence in northern Iraq.
Iraq: Camp expands to cope with new influxPlay video

Iraq: Camp expands to cope with new influx

A former transit camp for Syrian refugees in northern Iraq is being reconfigured and expanded to meet the needs of a growing number of displaced people.