Concern over Syrian refugees at Al Qaem as Iraq's crisis deepens

Briefing Notes, 20 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 20 June 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With forced displacement in Iraq now estimated at a million people so far this year UNHCR is also concerned about the safety of Syrian refugees at the Al Qaem camp in the west of the country.

Al-Qaem, also known as Al-Obaidi, lies in Iraq's Anbar province some 25 kilometres from the Syrian border. 1500 Syrian refugees are housed there in tents. A further 3,500 live outside the camp. Last night military clashes happened around one camp area, causing panic among the refugee population. The situation had calmed as of earlier this morning.

In view of the limited access UNHCR had earlier pre-positioned kerosene, diesel fuel and flour to make bread for the two months. We are also working with WFP and UNICEF to ensure food parcel delivery is not interrupted. Many refugees have asked to return to Syria, even though large parts of Syria remain contested. We are getting reports that many in the urban population have moved to safer communities outside Al Qaem.

Meanwhile the humanitarian needs of Iraq's wider newly displaced population continue to mount. Our aid operation is currently focused on the north of the country. Many of the displaced have found temporary shelter with friends and relatives, in hotels, schools, mosques, parks and unfinished buildings. An increasing number with no other options are seeking shelter in camps that are either in the process of being opened or in the planning stages. Twice this week, we have sent tents and other relief items with a convoy into Sinjar a poor and remote region of Ninewa province where some 30,000 people fleeing Tal Afar and elsewhere have gathered in recent days.

UNHCR and its partners have conducted assessments with close to 2,700 households in the urban areas of Erbil and Duhok. Seventy per cent of these IDP families told us they intend to return to Mosul soon because they are running out of money. Some have resorted to selling personal items to pay for shelter. Others have already left, and our colleagues monitoring checkpoints between provinces report movement in both directions.

We continue to ramp up our response to support these and others in need, distributing tents, mattresses, blankets, water containers and hygiene kits, kitchen sets and stoves for some 14,000 people sheltering in transit camps and urban locations. To date, UNHCR has provided aid to displaced people in the Khazair transit camp in Erbil governorate, the Garmawa camp and Zummar and Shekhan cities in Duhok governorate, to Sinjar in Ninewa governorate, to Sulymaniah city and Khanaqin town in Diyala governorate.

With fighting currently underway in different parts of the country, the displacement crisis could escalate further. Alongside our sister agencies and NGO partners in Iraq, UNHCR is revising its requirements and will soon issue a new appeal to cover the needs of a million displaced Iraqis displaced in 2014.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Baghdad, Ned Colt on mobile, +964 780 917 4173

  • In Erbil, Catherine Robinson on mobile, +964 771 99 45 693

  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120

  • In Geneva, Ariane Rummery on mobile +41 79 200 7617

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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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