UNHCR begins moving thousands of Syrian refugees to new camp in Iraq

Making a Difference, 4 October 2013

© UNHCR/L.Veide
Three refugee children explore the new camp at Darashakran in northern Iraq.

DARASHAKRAN, Iraq, October 4 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has this week opened the world's newest refugee camp to help accommodate some of the tens of thousands of people who have fled the fighting inside Syria and sought refuge in northern Iraq during recent months.

On Sunday, UNHCR began moving the first of some 10,000 newly arrived refugees to be housed in Darashakran camp, which could later double in capacity. The first arrivals at the camp in Iraq's Erbil governorate were transferred from a temporary site at Bekhma, where they had been staying in abandoned buildings.

The first residents of the camp were positive about the move. "We thank God and are happy to be here," said Mahmoud, who arrived here on Sunday with his wife and five children. "UNHCR is really taking care of us," he added. Siva, who came with 11 relatives, said: "The first impression is good and we want to have a good life here."

Another refugee, Noh Ahmed, fled with his wife and five children (including four-month-old twins) to Iraq from Hassakeh in northern Syria in mid-August and was staying in Bekhma. "It was good there, but we did not have the same freedom of movement that we have in Darashakran," he said. He was happy also that his children could go to school and said he hoped to find a job.

UNHCR plans to move about 50 families a day (300 people) to the new camp, which has been built by the refugee agency with the support of the Kurdistan Regional Government, other key UN organizations and NGO partners.

The new facility was needed because the only other permanent refugee camp in northern Iraq, Domiz in Dohuk governorate, was severely overcrowded. Built in April last year to provide shelter for 30,000 people, it currently hosts 45,000 mainly Syrian Kurds.

"UNHCR and its partners have spent more than US$6 million preparing Darashakran for its new residents, but we must be prepared for further arrivals of refugees," said Claire Bourgeois, UNHCR's representative in Iraq. "With our donors, UNHCR will work to ensure that Iraq has the capacity to cope with current and future influxes of refugees, but we appeal for borders to be kept open to all persons seeking protection and assistance," she added.

Iraq has been welcoming Syrian refugees since early in the crisis which began in March 2011. But the number of refugees crossing the border rose dramatically last August, when more than 60,000 people flowed into northern Iraq from all parts of Syria.

With the help of the local authorities, temporary sites were prepared to cope with the inflow, including at Kawergosk (12,000 refugees), Qushtapa (3,000) and Basirma (2,500). More than 40,000 other recently arrived Syrian refugees are sheltered in other makeshift sites in Dohuk, Sulemaniyeh and Erbil governorates.

Each family being transferred to the new purpose-built camp is receiving a shelter unit that includes an all-weather tent; separate latrine; bathing area and cooking space to ensure privacy. So far some 2,000 shelters have been erected at Darashakran.

Utilising satellite imagery, geographic information systems, spatial analysis and mapping services, the French aid group ACTED developed a camp master plan to help construction experts establish a site the size of a small town.

UNHCR and its partners have ensured that Darashakran includes community space for psycho-social counselling and an employment centre where residents can learn about jobs in the neighbouring community. All the necessary food distribution facilities, roads, water and sanitation systems have been installed as well as adequate lighting in all public areas.

"The relocation of refugees to the new Darashakran camp is a significant step in the overall response to the needs of Syrian refugees and ensures they have adequate shelter to cope with the region's cold winter months while also providing for their basic needs such as health care and education," said William Tall, head of UNHCR's sub-office in Erbil.

Iraq currently shelters more than 193,000 registered Syrian refugees, mainly in Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyeh governorates, but also in Ninewa and Anbar governorates. UNHCR is coordinating the multi-sectoral refugee response, ensuring protection and assistance for refugees.