Urgent appeal for resettlement of ex-Iraq Palestinians

Briefing Notes, 14 October 2008

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 14 October 2008, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In the lead up to UNHCR's bi-yearly informal consultations with resettlement countries tomorrow (Wednesday 15 Oct.), UNHCR has issued an urgent appeal for the resettlement of Palestinian refugees. Most have been stranded for over two years in two camps at the Iraq-Syrian border and in Baghdad, while a small group has been stranded in Al Hol camp in Syria.

Of the estimated 34,000 Palestinians in Iraq in 2003, less than 15,000 remain in Iraq including 2,943 Palestinian refugees currently living in the border camps at the Iraq-Syrian border. Of those in the border camps, 358 families (1,278 persons) are considered to be highly vulnerable having life-threatening diseases, needing urgent medical treatment or fearing persecution if they return and therefore are in urgent need of resettlement.

The majority fled Baghdad since 2003 because of threats, torture, detention, or after friends and family members were killed. The steady drain on financial resources has forced middle class families into the ranks of the poor, needing housing, food, medical, and cash assistance.

The refugees in the camps are particularly vulnerable because of their non-admission (Al Waleed Camp and Al Tanf Camp) or temporary admission (Al Hol Camp) into Syrian territory and their fear of persecution if they return. Moreover, living conditions at the border camps are extremely difficult, unsafe and continue to deteriorate. Refugees face extreme temperatures and regular sandstorms in the desert camps. There is a minimum of security. In Al Waleed camp, the health of refugees continues to deteriorate as medical services are limited. There are open sewage pits near tents and cooking facilities. The nearest medical facility is 400 km away and there is no ambulance service. All the camps depend entirely on assistance from UNHCR and its partners such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, for all of whom access remains very difficult.

In recent years, UNHCR has actively sought solutions for these refugees, such as resettlement inside or outside the region. Between 2006 and 2008, a total of 381 people were resettled, most to non-traditional resettlement countries such as Brazil and Chile. Smaller numbers left for Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, New Zealand and Canada. Another small group is about to leave for Sweden.

This, however, remains insufficient and with conditions deteriorating UNHCR once again calls for urgent actions from resettlement countries all over the world. UNHCR holds twice-a-year informal consultations with resettlement countries and yearly consultations between resettlement countries and non-governmental organizations. Flash appeals for urgent resettlement are only issued when specific attention is required for a specific problem.




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Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

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Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in Iraq

The UN refugee agency's Special Envoy Angelina Jolie visited Iraq this week, meeting with Syrian refugees and internally displaced Iraqi citizens in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. She offered support to 3.3 million people uprooted by conflict in the country and highlighted their needs.

Jolie spoke to people with dramatic stories of escape, including some who walked through the night and hid by day on their road freedom. She also met women who were among the 196 ethnic Yazidis recently released by militants and now staying in the informal settlement at Khanke.

"It is shocking to see how the humanitarian situation in Iraq has deteriorated since my last visit," said Jolie. "On top of large numbers of Syrian refugees, 2 million Iraqis were displaced by violence in 2014 alone. Many of these innocent people have been uprooted multiple times as they seek safety amidst shifting frontlines."

Photos by UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Special Envoy Angelina Jolie in Iraq

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For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

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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.

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