Displacement growing in Iraq's Anbar province as fighting rages

Briefing Notes, 6 June 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 6 June 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The number of civilians displaced by violence in Iraq's restive Anbar province continues to climb. With a deteriorating security situation it is also becoming harder for humanitarian actors to reach those in need.

As of today, the Iraqi government says 434,000 men, women and children have fled their homes since fighting escalated in January this year. However, the full scale of the displacement from this under-reported conflict is unknown, as the Iraqi authorities have had to suspend registration over the past month because of insecurity. UNHCR believes the current figure is now close to 480,000.

Iraq's new displacement crisis began in January with fighting between government forces and rebels in eastern Anbar. It has continued in various waves as the fighting locales shifted within the governorate. There was further displacement last month when fighters deliberately breached a dam in Anbar's Abu Ghraib district, flooding the area and forcing some 72,000 Iraqis from their homes. While the floodwaters have subsided, and people are returning to their homes, there are now health and recovery worries. Access to clean water is a pressing concern, because the flooding damaged water treatment plants. Local officials say 28 tanker truckloads of potable water are being delivered to the area every day, but this is only meeting 50 per cent of needs. There are also fears about further civilian flight from the city of Fallujah. Recent shelling of the city has sparked new displacement and hit a city hospital and water plant there, making life in the city and future recovery more difficult.

Our field teams report that many displaced people are struggling to cope in desperate conditions, spread out across Iraq. The highest concentrations of displaced people are in the Anbar and Salah al-Din governorates, followed by Erbil, Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah and Baghdad. The more fortunate are living with friends and relatives, but others are in tents, schools, unfinished buildings and other types of communal shelters. In Anbar governorate alone, where there are almost 300,000 displaced people, more than two-thirds are currently living in schools.

Displaced people tell us housing stock is limited, and increasingly expensive. Most are without income and are going into debt to pay for essential needs. Families say access to housing and food is a top priority. While UNHCR has provided emergency relief kits including soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other items reaching more than 48,000 people (8,200 families) and emergency cash assistance to 3,000 of the most vulnerable people (500 families), this represents a fraction of what is needed. Shortly, we will begin restoration work on some of the shelters; adding doors and windows to abandoned buildings where people live.

We urgently need to ramp up our response which is difficult for three reasons. We have deteriorating security in Anbar hindering access to people in need; the displaced are spread out across much of the country; and donor support is lacking. A UNHCR Special Appeal for US$ 26.4 million launched in March is currently only 12% funded. Better funding is critical to help those who are displaced now, and when they return home in the future.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva: Ariane Rummery on mobile +41 79 200 7617
  • In Baghdad: Ned Colt on mobile: +962 780 917 4173
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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.

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