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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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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

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.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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