Thousands of Syrian refugees arrive in Iraq, many with special needs

Telling the Human Story, 22 October 2012

© UNHCR/J.Seregni
Tents stretch into the distance at Domiz camp for Syrian refugees in northern Iraq's Dohuk governorate.

DOHUK, Iraq, September 30 (UNHCR) She's only four years old, but Syrian refugee Magi can't shake off the sounds and images of war that forced her family to flee the embattled northern city of Aleppo and seek shelter in northern Iraq.

"I can't sleep at night; I still have images of soldiers shooting from the roofs of the buildings," whispered the traumatized young girl in her family's tent at the Domiz refugee camp in Dohuk governorate. "There was rocket fire everywhere and we were really scared," added her mother, Rojin.

"There were power cuts all the time in our building and prices went up significantly," she continued. "It was impossible to buy bread and oil, shops were always closed and Magi was crying because she was hungry, so we decided to flee the country."

Magi and her mother are among some 34,400 Syrian refugees who have arrived in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq since the Syrian conflict erupted in March last year. And they continue to come, with an average of 500 people reaching Domiz every day.

Many of the children arrive suffering from trauma similar to Magi's and struggling to get the horrifying images out of their young minds. UNHCR met several children in need of professional support as well as participation in social activities to help them cope in their new, unfamiliar environment.

Such vulnerable cases are of particular concern to UNHCR and the Government of Kurdistan Region (KRG), which work together to provide support and counselling for children suffering from post-traumatic symptoms such as nightmares, anxiety attacks and painful memories.

In Domiz, UNHCR identifies cases of traumatized children and refers them to the camp's mental health unit, which is run by the KRG's department of health. Here, experts provide psychological counselling and support to the children and their families as well as follow up on their mental health situation.

Growing numbers of Syrians arriving with no economic resources and opting to stay in the camp and seek assistance are putting increased pressure on services in all sectors, including food, shelter, water and health care.

The new arrivals, including Magi's family, are living in transit areas while the infrastructure of the camp is being expanded to cope with the growing influx. It currently provides shelter to some 14,500 refugees. "It is difficult to live in a tent," said Rojin, adding: "We will never return."

The anxious mother said she hoped life in the camp would help her child "soon forget the trauma of war." Her husband is seeking work in Dohuk.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq continues to welcome Syrian Kurdish refugees and facilitate their integration and freedom of movement by issuing residency permits and providing access to public services.

As of early October, some 34,400 Syrian refugees have been registered in Iraq's Kurdistan Region. Duhok governorate hosts the largest number with more than 27,000 people, followed by Erbil (5,852) and Suleimaniya (1,683).

By Jerome Seregni in Dohuk, Iraq

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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

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

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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