UNHCR and WFP chiefs visit Iraq, express gratitude for hosting thousands of Syrian refugees

Press Releases, 27 August 2013

The heads of the UN organizations responsible for refugee protection and food assistance visited the Iraqi capital today amid a growing exodus of Syrians into the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

Iraq, which faces major security challenges and a vast population of 1.1 million internally displaced citizens, is host to some 200,000 Syrians. In the last two weeks alone, 46,000 Syrians crossed the border.

UNHCR chief António Guterres and Executive Director of the World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin expressed their appreciation to Iraq for welcoming fleeing Syrians and working with UN organizations to address their basic needs.

"With the escalation of this conflict, Syria could be on the edge of an abyss. This war has resulted in a humanitarian calamity without parallel in recent history," Mr. Guterres said. "When a war sweeps up a nation, there can be nothing more important to its people than open borders." Mr. Guterres urged all neighboring countries to ensure access to territory to all Syrians forced to flee.

"Enough," Ms. Cousin said, "now is the time for the global community to come together to ensure the violence ends and the healing begins. The children of Syria are depending on us not just to meet their needs today but to provide hope for a better tomorrow."

Mr. Guterres and Ms. Cousin met senior Iraqi officials, including Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Minister of Displacement and Migration Dindar Najman Shafeed. The officials expressed their concern about meeting the needs of rising numbers of refugees as well as security problems and worry that the conflict could spread.

As the conflict continues unabated, the UN officials noted that the costs of the humanitarian response are escalating and funding is short. While expressing appreciation for the generosity of international donors, they called on donors to recognize the funding needs to assist the growing numbers of Syrian refugees in Iraq. Mr. Guterres thanked the Government of Iraq for its generous support and for a $10 million donation announced today for UNHCR's response.

The officials noted that the presence of thousands of refugees creates a tremendous stress on communities where most refugees live. They pledged to actively engage development actors to help host communities so their infrastructure is bolstered and their burden is eased.

Ms. Cousin noted that in Iraq food assistance is provided to refugees primarily through a voucher a food delivery mechanism that allows refugees to purchase groceries in local shops.

"A WFP voucher gives refugees the ability to access the food available, support the local economy and makes them feel more welcome by the local community," said Ms. Cousin. She noted that food is readily available in the Kurdistan region but that refugees lack the means to feed themselves without humanitarian assistance.

The two UN officials will proceed tomorrow to Northern Iraq to visit refugee camps sheltering thousands of Syrians.


About WFP:

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Last year, WFP reached more than 97 million people in 80 countries with food assistance.


About UNHCR:

http://www.unhcr.org @refugees @refugeesmedia

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also known as the UN refugee agency, was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. In more than six decades, the agency has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives.


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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

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

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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Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

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