Displacement continuing in central Iraq, aid reaching affected communities

Briefing Notes, 14 January 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 14 January 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UN High Commissioner António Guterres is in Iraq as part of a delegation of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and ahead of tomorrow's pledging conference in Kuwait. This morning, they have been at the Kawergosk refugee camp near Erbil in northern Iraq, talking to refugee families and seeing the facilities. Kawergosk hosts 13,000 Syrian refugees who arrived in August 2013, amid the influx of some 60,000 people at the time.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is among areas in the region currently seeing arrivals of Syrians. Border crossing points there from Syria were all but closed from mid-September until the start of January, when the Peshkabour crossing was reopened.

Since then some 5,000 people have crossed, and several hundred now arrive every afternoon. Of these only around 900 have registered with UNHCR. These people are transferred to a reception centre where they are given basic assistance before being moved to the Gawilan refugee camp in transport provided by IOM. Other recent arrivals have arranged their own transportation and are apparently going to Erbil and Suleiymania to join families, while some proceed to Zakho and Dohuk.

Authorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq have told us that they are adopting a flexible approach to the arrivals and those Syrians who do not want to stay as refugees can remain for up to seven days or approach the local authorities to legalize longer-term stay. Only 30 per cent of the Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq stay in camps, while the rest live in host communities. Currently Iraq hosts some 250,000 Syrians, of whom some 212,000 are registered as refugees.

Meanwhile, in central Iraq, UN agencies and Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration estimate that some 70,000 people have now been displaced by the fighting and insecurity in Iraq's Anbar Province. Most are in areas around Fallujah and Ramadi, but authorities in other central and northern provinces report the arrival of hundreds of displaced families there too.

Aid from UN and partner agencies has been reaching some of the affected communities since 8th January, and yesterday a further 12 trucks of UNHCR relief reached neighbourhoods around Fallujah, carrying non-food aid. The International Rescue Committee, UNHCR's main partner agency in the area, is doing distribution. At present, insecurity and access difficulties are still hampering the overall effort. The UN is advocating with the government of Iraq to ensure access to displaced persons and safe passage of humanitarian aid.

The displacement in central Iraq is impacting other regions of the country. Authorities in the northern Kurdistan Region of Iraq report that some 14,000 people have arrived in the last two weeks from Anbar. UNHCR is coordinating with the regional government to establish their locations and assess immediate needs. Although the displaced are said to be mainly accommodated with family or staying in hotels, we are coming across families living in abandoned houses and semi-constructed buildings that are in urgent need of assistance. At the request of the authorities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, UNHCR and its partners are refurbishing a transit centre at Baharka to accommodate more displaced persons.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Amman, Peter Kessler on mobile +962 79 631 7901
  • In Baghdad: Natalia Prokopchuk on mobile +964 780 921 7341
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011
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Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Tens of thousands of people have fled to Erbil and Duhok governorates in Iraq's Kurdistan region over the past week, sheltering in schools, mosques, churches and temporary camps following a surge of violence in parts of central and northern Iraq. UNHCR and its partners have been working to meet the urgent shelter needs. The refugee agency has delivered close to 1,000 tents to a transit camp being built by the authorities and NGOs at Garmawa, near Duhok.

Many of the people arriving from Mosul at checkpoints between Ninewa and governorate and Iraq's Kurdistan region have limited resources and cannot afford to pay for shelter. Some people stay with family, while others are staying in hotels and using up their meagre funds.

In the village of Alqosh, some 150 people from 20 families, with little more than the clothes on their back, have been living in several overcrowded classrooms in a primary school for the past week. One member of the group said they had lived in a rented apartment in Mosul and led a normal family life. But in Alqosh, they feared for the welfare and education of their children and the presence of snakes and scorpions.

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

In the past few days, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled fighting in the northern city of Mosul and other areas. UNHCR staff are on the ground to monitor the outflow and help those in need. The needs are immense, but UNHCR is working to provide shelter, protection, and emergency items, including tents. Many of the displaced left their homes without belongings and some lack money for housing, food, water or medical care. They arrive at checkpoints between Ninewa governorate and the Kurdistan region with no idea of where to go next, or how to pay expenses.

UN agencies, humanitarian groups, and government officials are coordinating efforts to do what they can to aid those in need. UN agencies are making an emergency request for additional support. UNHCR is hoping to provide emergency kits as well as thousands of tents. UNHCR and its partners will also be working to protect and help the displaced.

The exodus in the north comes on top of massive displacement this year in the western Iraqi governorate of Anbar, where fighting since January has forced some half-a-million people to flee the province or seek shelter in safer areas.

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Three days after giving birth to her fourth child, a girl she named Hawler, Peroz concluded that the situation in her hometown of Hassake, Syria, was too dangerous for her children. She decided to make the difficult journey to northern Iraq. Along the way, she and Hawler were sick. "I was terrified the baby might die," said Peroz, 27.

Although the border was closed, guards felt compassion for the newborn child and let Peroz's family enter. A few days later Peroz and her children were reunited with their father and now they are living with hundreds of other refugees in a small park on the outskirts of Erbil.

Battling mosquitoes and soaring daytime temperatures, and with little more than blankets for comfort and a breakfast of bread and cheese for nourishment, Peroz and her husband hope to be transferred to a new tented settlement.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of Syrians have flooded into northern Iraq, fleeing violence. With existing camps at full capacity, many refugee families are finding shelter anywhere they can. The local government has started transferring people from Qushtapa Park to a nearby camp. UNHCR is registering the refugees, as well as providing tents and life-saving assistance.

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Iraq: The Generous GiverPlay video

Iraq: The Generous Giver

An estimated 1.8 million Iraqis have been internally displaced since the beginning of the year, with nearly half seeking refuge in the Kurdistan Region. As weary families began pouring into Dohuk, one local businessman built them a small camp equipped with tents, water, sanitation and electricity.
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.