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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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.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

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: Angelina Jolie Visits Displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: Angelina Jolie Visits Displaced Iraqis

UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie recently visited internally displaced Iraqis living in an informal settlement and a formal camp at Khanke, near Dohuk. There, she heard dramatic stories of escape from the more than 20,000 Yazidis who fled Sinjar and surrounding areas last August.
Iraq: The Plight of the YazidisPlay video

Iraq: The Plight of the Yazidis

Tens of thousands of people, including ethnic Yazidis originating from the Sinjar area, have been forced to find shelter in schools and unfinished structures across northern Iraq since fleeing their homes. The UN refugee agency has been trying to help, opening camps to provide better shelter.
Iraq: Preparing for Winter in DohukPlay video

Iraq: Preparing for Winter in Dohuk

Efforts are under way in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring countries to prepare refugees and the internally displaced for winter. But UNHCR remains deeply concerned that a $58.45 million funding shortfall could leave as many as a million people out in the cold.