Iraq: UNHCR gratefully acknowledges UAE donation

Briefing Notes, 2 October 2007

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 2 October 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is pleased to announce a $10 million donation by His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, in support of our operations for Iraqi refugees in Syria. This donation will help ease the suffering of Iraqi refugees and alleviate some of the burden being shouldered by host countries such as Syria.

We thank the President and the people of the United Arab Emirates for this timely contribution, evidence of our enhanced humanitarian partnership and of humanitarian solidarity within the region. High Commissioner António Guterres is sending a message of thanks and appreciation to His Highness, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of United Arab Emirates, in recognition of this donation.

In the region, meanwhile, UNHCR staff yesterday reported that the Iraq-Syria border crossing at Al Tanf was largely deserted, in sharp contrast to the day before when the same team had seen large numbers of Iraqis crossing into Syria. Iraqi commercial truck drivers the only ones who had reportedly received visas were still passing through yesterday. While we have not had any formal notification by the Syrian authorities, we believe this might well indicate that Syria has again started to impose visa restrictions on Iraqis wishing to enter Syria.

Last month, Syria announced its intention to impose visa restrictions, declaring it had received more than 1.4 million Iraqis and was now at the breaking point. With the start of Ramadan, however, the visa restrictions were temporarily postponed. It now appears they have been re-imposed.

A closure of the border would effectively mean that Iraqis fleeing their country would lose their only remaining safe haven. Our team in Syria is still discussing with the government a proposal for the introduction of a special humanitarian visa, which would allow those most in need to still enter the country for urgent humanitarian reasons. But so far we have no further clarity on this.

There are more than 4.4 million uprooted Iraqis and they continue to flee at the rate of some 60,000 a month. More than 2.2 million of them are displaced inside the country, with some 800,900 people living in the northern governorates, 740,500 in the centre and 714,600 living in the south of Iraq. Another 2.2 million Iraqis have fled the country the majority of them to Syria. The Iraqis in Syria now constitute about 10 percent of the total population and put an enormous strain on the country. UNHCR has been calling for increased support for countries like Syria and Jordan who jointly host over 2 million refugees.

During the first six months of 2007, an estimated 19,800 Iraqis asked for asylum in industrialised countries outside the region (North America, Europe and Australia). At the same time, UNHCR referred the files of over 14,000 of the most vulnerable Iraqis to resettlement countries for their consideration. By the end of September, some 1,800 of these Iraqis had departed to various resettlement countries.

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Syrians stream from their war-torn country into Iraq's Kurdistan region

Thousands of Syrians streamed across a bridge over the Tigris River and into Iraq's Kurdistan region on Thursday, August 15th. UNHCR Field Officer, Galiya Gubaeva, was on the ground with her camera.

Syrians stream from their war-torn country into Iraq's Kurdistan region

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

A Day with the Doctor: A Syrian Refugee Treats Refugees in Iraq

Hassan is a qualified surgeon, but by a twist of fate he now finds himself specializing in the treatment of refugees. In 2006, as conflict raged in Iraq, he spent 10 weeks treating hundreds of ill and injured Iraqis at a refugee camp in eastern Syria.

Six years later his own world turned upside down. Fleeing the bloodshed in his native Syria, Doctor Hassan escaped to neighbouring Iraq in May 2012 and sought refuge in the homeland of his former patients. "I never imagined that I would one day be a refugee myself," he says. "It's like a nightmare."

Like many refugees, Hassan looked for ways to put his skills to use and support his family. At Domiz Refugee Camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, he found work in a clinic run by Médecins Sans Frontières. He works long hours, mainly treating diarrhoea and other preventable illnesses. More than half of his patients are Syrian refugee children - not unlike his own two boys.

During the two days that photographer Brian Sokol followed Hassan, he rarely stood still for more than a few minutes. His day was a blur of clinical visits punctuated by quick meals and hurried hellos. When not working in the clinic, he was making house calls to refugees' tents late into the night.

A Day with the Doctor: A Syrian Refugee Treats Refugees in Iraq

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Iraq: Innovation & Refugee Shelter

The IKEA Foundation is funding the development of durable and easy-to-assemble shelters for refugees. Syrians in northern Iraq have been among the first to try them out.
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Iraq: Separated Syrian Families

This the story of Suleiman, one of nearly 60,000 refugees who crossed the border into northern Iraq in August 2013. Flight meant many families were torn apart as they searched for safety.