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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Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Tens of thousands of people have fled to Erbil and Duhok governorates in Iraq's Kurdistan region over the past week, sheltering in schools, mosques, churches and temporary camps following a surge of violence in parts of central and northern Iraq. UNHCR and its partners have been working to meet the urgent shelter needs. The refugee agency has delivered close to 1,000 tents to a transit camp being built by the authorities and NGOs at Garmawa, near Duhok.

Many of the people arriving from Mosul at checkpoints between Ninewa and governorate and Iraq's Kurdistan region have limited resources and cannot afford to pay for shelter. Some people stay with family, while others are staying in hotels and using up their meagre funds.

In the village of Alqosh, some 150 people from 20 families, with little more than the clothes on their back, have been living in several overcrowded classrooms in a primary school for the past week. One member of the group said they had lived in a rented apartment in Mosul and led a normal family life. But in Alqosh, they feared for the welfare and education of their children and the presence of snakes and scorpions.

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

In the past few days, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled fighting in the northern city of Mosul and other areas. UNHCR staff are on the ground to monitor the outflow and help those in need. The needs are immense, but UNHCR is working to provide shelter, protection, and emergency items, including tents. Many of the displaced left their homes without belongings and some lack money for housing, food, water or medical care. They arrive at checkpoints between Ninewa governorate and the Kurdistan region with no idea of where to go next, or how to pay expenses.

UN agencies, humanitarian groups, and government officials are coordinating efforts to do what they can to aid those in need. UN agencies are making an emergency request for additional support. UNHCR is hoping to provide emergency kits as well as thousands of tents. UNHCR and its partners will also be working to protect and help the displaced.

The exodus in the north comes on top of massive displacement this year in the western Iraqi governorate of Anbar, where fighting since January has forced some half-a-million people to flee the province or seek shelter in safer areas.

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Three days after giving birth to her fourth child, a girl she named Hawler, Peroz concluded that the situation in her hometown of Hassake, Syria, was too dangerous for her children. She decided to make the difficult journey to northern Iraq. Along the way, she and Hawler were sick. "I was terrified the baby might die," said Peroz, 27.

Although the border was closed, guards felt compassion for the newborn child and let Peroz's family enter. A few days later Peroz and her children were reunited with their father and now they are living with hundreds of other refugees in a small park on the outskirts of Erbil.

Battling mosquitoes and soaring daytime temperatures, and with little more than blankets for comfort and a breakfast of bread and cheese for nourishment, Peroz and her husband hope to be transferred to a new tented settlement.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of Syrians have flooded into northern Iraq, fleeing violence. With existing camps at full capacity, many refugee families are finding shelter anywhere they can. The local government has started transferring people from Qushtapa Park to a nearby camp. UNHCR is registering the refugees, as well as providing tents and life-saving assistance.

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Iraq: The Generous GiverPlay video

Iraq: The Generous Giver

An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since the beginning of the year, with nearly half seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region. As weary families began pouring into Dohuk, one local businessman built them a small camp equipped with tents, water, sanitation and electricity.
Iraq: Breaking BreadPlay video

Iraq: Breaking Bread

Shareef fled to Iraq a year ago to escape the violence in Syria. He opened a bakery, which has done great business. When he heard about a new wave of displacement in northern Iraq in August, he decided to help those in need by providing bread.
Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in KhankePlay video

Iraq: Moving to a New Camp in Khanke

A new camp for displaced people is taking shape in the village of Khanke in Iraq's Kurdistan region, with the help of UNHCR and its partners. After weeks of uncomfortable living in the courtyard of an old public building, Chenar and her ethnic Yazidi family are looking forward to moving to the new facility.