UNHCR steps up aid as Yazidis stream into Syria from Iraq's Mount Sinjar

News Stories, 14 August 2014

© UNHCR Photo
The distribution of tents and non-food aid continues as the population of Newroz camp grows as more and more Yazidis arrive from Mount Sinjar in Iraq.

QAMISHLY, Syria, August 14 (UNHCR) As members of Iraq's threatened Yazidi community continue to flow into Syria from northern Iraq, UNHCR has begun providing aid and transporting new arrivals from the mountainous border area to the Newroz camp some 60 kilometres to the west.

Tens of thousands of mainly Yazidi people have fled to Syria since militants captured Sinjar and other northern Iraq towns in early August. Most have crossed back quickly, via the Semalka/Peshkabour border crossing, into the relative safety of Iraq's Kurdistan region. An increasing number of Yazidis (an estimated 15,000) are seeking refuge in Syria, where UNHCR is working with local NGOs and UN partners to provide aid.

One UNHCR staff member in Newroz described the situation as a "humanitarian tragedy" and said "people arrive in the camp extremely weak, thirsty, traumatized, especially women and children." Their feet are covered in blisters, having spent days on Mount 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.

"I have not seen a happy or smiling child," said the UNHCR worker, after touring Newroz. "None of the kids were playing or trying to hold your hand, give you a smile like other kids normally do. They were all walking aimlessly, either barefoot or just wearing sad faces . . . it was heartbreaking."

UNHCR said it was working round-the-clock to respond to the humanitarian emergency. "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."

The refugee agency has rushed tents, plastic sheets, blankets, hygiene kits and other household items to the Newroz camp from its stockpiles in north-east Syria's 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 2,000 tents and 5,000 mattresses in the coming days.

UNHCR has begun transporting Yazidis from the border to Newroz at the request of local camp managers and the refugees themselves. A fleet of 20 trucks on Tuesday and Wednesday brought some 5,000 to the camp, which is located near the city of Qamishly. New arrivals tell aid workers about their grave concerns for others of their community weakened from days on the mountain and the long walk to safety.

The Newroz camp is currently hosting about 15,000 Yazidis from Iraq; hundreds more are staying in nearby villages and towns around Qahtaniyyeh and Ras Al Ain. After a few days at the camp, many refugees make their way to Dohuk province in Iraq's Kurdistan region to reunite with family.

Many refugee families have been separated, scattered between Sinjar, Syria and the Kurdistan region of Iraq; some children have been separated from their parents in the chaos. Many refugees say they had to leave behind older people whom they could not carry. Others who made it safely to Newroz backed 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, the UNHCR staff member said in Newroz. The hosts have "cooked hot meals in their homes and were transporting them and distributing [aid] to the people as acts of goodwill and kindness," she said. Locals had also donated clothes to people unable to change for days or wearing rags.

UNHCR is coordinating the UN response in Syria to the Yazidi refugee crisis, which is rapidly scaling up. A joint UN mission was carried out on Tuesday, bringing shelter and household items, ready to eat food, high energy biscuits, children's summer clothes and soap, provided by UNHCR, the World Food Programme and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

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