Thousands of refugees arrive in Kurdistan region of Iraq

Briefing Notes, 7 January 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 7 January 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

On Sunday afternoon the Syrian-Iraqi border at Peshkhabour opened and 2,519 Syrians crossed by barge. Border crossing points between the Kurdistan region of Iraq and Syria had been closed since mid-September in the wake of an exodus of some 60,000 Syrians. Aid workers and local authorities worked overnight Sunday to process the group.

The arrivals from Syria must use small barges which carry about 10-30 persons and take about 20 minutes to cross from Simelka, on Syria side of the river. The pontoon bridge is not in use at present and is moored on the Syrian side of the river.

Most appear to be intent on returning to Syria. On Monday, UNHCR staff witnessed some 350 of the new arrivals load barges and go back to Syria with generators, kerosene heaters and other supplies.

Authorities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq have told UNHCR that they have adopted a flexible approach and those Syrians who say they do not want to stay as refugees can visit for up to seven days or approach the local authorities to legalise their stay.

Some 400 persons who requested UNHCR's support as refugees and were taken to Gawilan refugee camp on Monday on buses chartered by the International Organisation for Migration. Gawilan camp is located between Erbil and Dohuk and has some 3,000 residents.

While there were no arrivals via the Peshkhabour crossing yesterday, by this morning several thousand Syrians had gathered at the opposite side but so far no one has crossed.

At present there are 13 refugee Syrian camps or transit sites located in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and Al Obeidy camp in western Anbar Province. Iraq hosts 210,000 registered Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, insecurity is creating new internal displacement in central Iraq. UNHCR is working with UN partners and the government to try to assess the needs of displaced persons from the recent upsurge in violence in Fallujah and Ramadi.

Several villages in central Anbar governorate have welcomed displaced persons. UN agencies and NGO partners are working to collect information and try to get access to the IDPs. UNHCR is ready to provide core relief items like blankets, plastic tarpaulins, kitchen sets, sleeping mats, hygienic supplies and other items to complement the support other agencies may provide.

This new displacement adds to the over 1.13 million internally displaced people inside Iraq that fled their homes amidst the 2006-2008 sectarian violence mostly residing in Baghdad, Diyala and Ninewa governorates.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Amman, Peter Kessler on +962 79 631 7901
  • In Geneva, Dan McNorton on +41 79 217 3011
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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.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

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.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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