Iraq aid operation enters new phase, pressure on accommodation still intense with winter looming

Briefing Notes, 5 September 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 5 September 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Iraq, the major aid operation launched on 20 August for almost half a million displaced people has continued to push forward. Over the next few days 10 further aid flights will be arriving in Erbil. Despite this ongoing work, pressure on accommodation remains acute. Many schools are still being used to house the displaced. In addition, there is urgent need to reinforce tents and other housing in preparation for the coming winter.

Over the past week, aid has continued to flow in by plane, ship and road, being distributed across Iraq. The new airlift, supported by the people and government of Norway, will bring close to 40,000 blankets, 10,000 kitchen sets, and almost 18,000 plastic tarpaulins/sheets.

Already, since mid-June, UNHCR and its partners have provided more than 100,000 mattresses, 10,000 family tents, and 40,000 water jugs (jerry cans) and tens of thousands of other essential items for some of the estimated 850,000 people who have fled into Iraq's northern Kurdistan region.

At present, new displacement has diminished. However, with ongoing fighting in Ninewa, Diyala, Anbar, and Salah al-Din governorates, the situation remains unpredictable. Aid needs remain far-reaching; in addition to shelter and emergency items- food, medical care and education are priorities.

UNHCR is also continuing supporting displaced in central and southern Iraq, where we have reached nearly 120,000 people across 15 governorates since January. Emergency aid kits, have been pre-positioned in case of further need in Amerli in Salah al-Din governorate.

At present there are eight camps across Iraq, housing close to 40,000 displaced people. UNHCR is providing help, including tents and emergency aid. Nineteen other camps are under consideration, being designed and constructed by regional authorities and aid agencies. UNHCR is supporting that work in some of the camps. We will also be providing tents, emergency aid and protection support as needed.

However, most of the displaced are not living in camps, and many are still in collective centres, unfinished buildings, mosques, churches and schools. More than 2,000 schools countrywide are being used to house the displaced, making it likely that the start of the school year, currently scheduled to begin in less than two weeks, will be delayed. People living in schools are being prioritized for movement to new camps as they open. There remains a pressing need for a solution to the shelter crisis, as it is unlikely that security will improve sufficiently over the coming weeks for large numbers of people to be able to return to their homes.

As well as emergency aid, UNHCR is providing cash assistance to help those in rented accommodation. To date we've reached some 12,000 people (1,990 families). By the end of the year we expect to help close to 50,000 people with cash support. Cash support enables people to buy what they view as being most important; quite often, some of it goes toward rent. We are also working on rehabilitating damaged housing.

Time is now of the essence in providing support to Iraq's displaced. Winter is approaching fast, with snow, rain and muddy conditions. In less than three months from now, daily temperatures will average less than ten degrees Celsius, and the rains will begin. UNHCR has already released 20,000 additional family tents, but more warm clothing and heaters will also be needed.

Across Iraq, an estimated 1.8 million people have been displaced since January. They are spread around some 1500 sites across the country. Iraq is also hosting 215,000 Syrian refugees.

UNHCR urgently needs more financial support to be able to meet the needs of forcibly displaced people and host communities across Iraq amid the current emergency. UNHCR, as a part of the UN humanitarian relief effort, will be launching an appeal for an additional US$350 million to help meet these needs. The main focus will be on providing life-saving protection services and assistance to respond to the most urgent basic needs of displaced Iraqis, including winterization support.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Erbil, Ned Colt on mobile +964 780 917 4173
  • In Erbil, Natalia Prokopchuk on mobile +964 780 921 7341
  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva, Francis Markus on mobile +41 79 301 1966
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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

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After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

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.

Posted on 20 February 2007

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The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

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.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

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