Flood ordeal for Palestinians stuck on Iraq-Syria border

News Stories, 30 October 2008

© UNHCR/B.Auger
Water, Water, Everywhere: Rainstorms left tents inundated with water and sewage at Al Tanf.

AL TANF, Iraq-Syria Border, October 30 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has rushed assistance to hundreds of Palestinian refugees stuck in camps on the Iraq-Syria border after heavy rain and flooding caused chaos and misery.

Rainstorms on Tuesday night left tents inundated with water and sewage, possessions soaked and electricity supplies cut at Al Tanf, a settlement housing almost 800 people in the narrow no man's land between Iraq and Syria. The small mosque was damaged by fire, but there were no human casualties

"This is the closest to hell I can imagine," said Mutassem Hayatla, a UNHCR field officer who stayed in the camp during the downpour. "With no electricity, the camp was full of the sound of crying, terrified children. We did our best, but it was a blessing when the night was over."

Nine-year-old Aya said she was terrified. "The lights were all off, there was water everywhere. My mother was crying. She is pregnant and the baby will come soon. Please get us out before my brother is born. I am scared he will die if we have to live here after she delivers."

The situation was even worse in Al Waleed, a nearby camp hosting more than 1,400 refugees just inside Iraq, where more than 100 families were left homeless after their tents were destroyed in the storm. UNHCR was rushing supplies on Wednesday to both sites, but it was taking longer to get to Al Waleed due to security considerations.

The UNHCR office in Damascus sent new tents, plastic sheeting, blankets and mattresses to Al Tanf on Wednesday, while refugee agency staff on the ground in Al Waleed were waiting for supplies to arrive in Iraq. The worst affected families and elderly Palestinians were moved to the camp school and a clinic.

When the UNHCR aid convoy arrived in Al Tanf on Wednesday morning, residents were recovering their soaked belongings amid the incessant downpour. Trucks thundered past on the Baghdad-Damascus highway which runs beside the camp, throwing up waves of water onto the nearest tents.

Many of the worst affected had moved in with families whose tents had been spared the worst of the damage and pollution caused by the floodwaters. The storm could hardly have come at a worse time, with winter approaching. "We sleep with seven blankets," said Nadia, a mother of three children, including a severely handicapped child. "Now that everything is wet, I don't know how we are going to stay warm."

UNHCR staff in Al Waleed said it had become a muddy quagmire, while flash floods had swept away scores of tents. The sewage system had also overflown in the camp and people were falling ill. "We are already inundated with refugee patients complaining about cold and flu," said a Palestinian refugee doctor.

The flooding is just one more chapter in the ordeal suffered by the Palestinians in Al Tanf and Al Waleed since fleeing their homes in Baghdad to escape threats, kidnapping and violence. They have endured sandstorms, snow in the winter and soaring temperatures in the summer. In Al Tanf, two children have been killed by passing trucks and there have been a couple of major fires.

Some of the refugees have lived at Al Tanf for three years, barred from entering any of the countries neighbouring Iraq. "We cannot go forwards, nor back. We have a road on one side that threatens our children's lives daily, a high wall on the other; in front and behind we have two impenetrable borders," explained Abu Ziyad, a member of the Al Tanf refugee committee.

"Our only hope is resettlement. For the sake of our children, our wives, our elderly, we beg you, please get us out of here," he pleaded.

UNHCR on Thursday reiterated its appeal to the international community to provide resettlement places for Palestinians from Iraq, with no other option currently available for the refugees. "We urge more countries to open their doors to resettle the Palestinian refugees and bring their precarious situation to an end," said Daniel Endres, UNHCR's representative in Iraq.

By Sybella Wilkes in Al Tanf, Iraq-Syria border

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

Iraq Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Iraq.

Donate to this crisis

CAR Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Make a gift now to help protect and assist those fleeing violence in Central African Republic.

Donate to this crisis

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

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.
Iraq: Massive UNHCR Aid OperationPlay video

Iraq: Massive UNHCR Aid Operation

The UN refugee agency is conducting a massive aid operation to assist some 500,000 Iraqis displaced by conflict in northern Iraq. It includes airlifts, and transport of aid by road and sea.