Former Iraqi refugees benefit from UNHCR shelter programme in the south

News Stories, 20 May 2010

© UNHCR
Workers busy on the construction of a house in Al Kahla district.

AL KAHLA DISTRICT, Iraq, May 20 (UNHCR) Seven years after returning to Iraq from long exile in neighbouring Iran and three years after losing her husband and son in a bomb blast, Suad Jafar finally has something to be happy about a house of her own.

Suad and her five grandchildren were among a group of 180 Iraqi families, gathering more than 1,000 people, who were given the keys to new houses earlier this month in the southern province of Missan under a UNHCR shelter programme.

All of the families came back from Iran after the ouster of the late President Saddam Hussein in 2003 and they were allocated land by the government. But they did not have the resources or finances to build, and some faced difficulty in paying to rent a place.

UNHCR was unable to help this particular group of former refugees until 2009, when more staff were deployed in Basra amid the improved security situation. Staff soon identified some pre-2003 refugees as particularly vulnerable and decided to include them in the agency's shelter programme, which saw UNHCR fund the construction or rehabilitation of more than 10,000 houses around the country last year.

In Missan's, UNHCR's implementing partner, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), organized the construction of the shelters that were handed over last month at a ceremony attended by UNHCR and DRC staff as well as government officials.

"I cannot believe I have my own house. It is like a miracle that has come true," Suad said, when she was given her keys. She had fled to Iran with her husband and son a few months after the end of the first Gulf War in 1991.

When Saddam and his regime fell, the family returned to Al Kahla in Missan and were later given a 200-square-metre plot of land by Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration. But they could not afford to build on it and things got worse when Suad's husband and son were killed in a bomb blast in Baghdad in 2006.

Although she is still dependent on aid from relatives and humanitarian organizations, having her own two-room house will make life a lot easier and brighter for Suad as she struggles to bring up her five grandchildren, whose mother is too ill to take care of them.

Morsy Hussein and his family also received a new house in Al Kahla district under UNHCR's shelter programme. He spent more than 25 years in exile, living near the holy city of Qom. But after returning in 2003, he found it difficult to earn a living as an unskilled labourer.

In late 2009, the Danish Refugee Council started construction work on the piece of land he had been given by the Ministry of Displacement and Migration. He and his relatives moved in at the same time as Suad and her young family. Now that he does not have to pay rent, Morsy will likely find it easier to provide for his kin.

UNHCR's work in Missan complements the Iraqi government's land allocation programme for pre-2003 refugees, under which the Ministry of Displacement and Migration has distributed some 2,000 plots of land to returnees in the south.

Meanwhile, UNHCR plans to continue its valuable shelter programme, "subject to availability of funds," noted Daniel Endres, the refugee agency's representative in Iraq. "UNHCR plans to complete some 50,000 units this year for formerly displaced populations," he said, adding that this would help ease the reintegration of about 300,000 Iraqis.

It is an enormous challenge that cannot be achieved without the continuing help of the donor and international community. UNHCR is appealing this year for more than US$500 million for its operations helping forcibly displaced Iraqis inside and outside the country. This includes some US$264 million for operations in Iraq, much of it for shelter projects to benefit the internally displaced and returnees.

By Maha Sidky and Mohamad Al Soudani in Al Kahla District, Iraq

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Shelter

One of the first things that people need after being forced to flee their homes, whether they be refugees or internally displaced, is some kind of a roof over their head.

Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

Photographer Pepe Rubio Larrauri travelled to Aden in March 2012 to document the day-to-day lives of the displaced.

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UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

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Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

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