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Yazidis stream into Syria from Mount Sinjar, UNHCR steps up aid

Press Releases, 14 August 2014

In Syria, and as part of its response to the Yazidi situation in neighbouring Iraq, UNHCR has begun transporting newly arriving refugees from the border area to the Newroz camp near Al Qamishli, some 60 kilometres to the west.

Tens of thousands of mainly Yazidi people have now crossed the Semalka/Peshkabour border crossing, after transiting through Syria, into the Dohuk governorate of northern Iraq over the last 10 days. An increasing number of Yazidis (currently estimated at 15,000) are seeking refuge inside Syria where UNHCR is working with local NGOs and UN partners to provide aid.

The refugees arrive exhausted and deeply traumatized, their feet covered in blisters, having spent days on Mt Sinjar in searing temperatures without food, water or shelter after fleeing for their lives, then walking many hours in some cases days to find safety. They are extremely weak, thirsty, and hungry, especially the women and children, and many have untreated wounds.

"The Yazidi situation remains a very dynamic and challenging one, and it's of life-saving importance that people receive help and protection," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. "We are doing all we can in very difficult circumstances to meet the urgent needs."

UNHCR has rushed tents, plastic sheets, blankets, hygiene kits and other household items to the Newroz camp from its stockpiles in Al Hassakeh province, where it has had a field presence since 2010 helping various waves of displaced people. More aid is on the way, including an airlift of 2000 tents and 5000 mattresses in the coming days to alleviate crowded conditions.

UNHCR began ferrying the newly arrived refugees the 60 kilometre journey from the border to the camp on Tuesday (12 August) at the request of the local camp managers and refugees themselves.

The Newroz camp currently hosts about 15,000 Yazidis from Iraq; hundreds more are staying in nearby villages and towns around Al Qahtaniyyeh and Ras Al Ain. After a few days at the camp, many refugees head back to Iraq to reunite with families in the Dohuk area of northern Kurdistan, but still thousands continue to come.

Many refugee families have been separated, scattered between Sinjar, Syria and the Kurdistan region of Iraq; children have been torn from their parents -- killed, kidnapped or disappeared in the chaos. The majority of children are now with their grandparents, cousins or more distant relatives. Many refugees report they had to leave behind their elderly whom they could not carry, anxious to know if they were still alive. Others who made it safely to the camp gave reports of young girls and women forced to stay behind and being sold. Families say that their young men were killed.

The local communities in Syria have warmly welcomed the refugees, providing transport, cooking hot meals at home and delivering them to the camp, and donating clothes. UNHCR is coordinating the UN response to the Yazidi refugees in Syria which is rapidly scaling up. A joint UN mission was carried out on 12 August, bringing shelter and household items, ready to eat food, high energy biscuits, children's summer clothes and soap, provided by UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF.

For further information, please contact:

  • In Damascus, Imane Sednaoui on mobile +1 647 515 2770 / +963 988 004075
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva, Ariane Rummery on mobile +41 79 200 7617
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UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

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Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

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UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

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