Concern over Syrian refugees at Al Qaem as Iraq's crisis deepens

Briefing Notes, 20 June 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 20 June 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With forced displacement in Iraq now estimated at a million people so far this year UNHCR is also concerned about the safety of Syrian refugees at the Al Qaem camp in the west of the country.

Al-Qaem, also known as Al-Obaidi, lies in Iraq's Anbar province some 25 kilometres from the Syrian border. 1500 Syrian refugees are housed there in tents. A further 3,500 live outside the camp. Last night military clashes happened around one camp area, causing panic among the refugee population. The situation had calmed as of earlier this morning.

In view of the limited access UNHCR had earlier pre-positioned kerosene, diesel fuel and flour to make bread for the two months. We are also working with WFP and UNICEF to ensure food parcel delivery is not interrupted. Many refugees have asked to return to Syria, even though large parts of Syria remain contested. We are getting reports that many in the urban population have moved to safer communities outside Al Qaem.

Meanwhile the humanitarian needs of Iraq's wider newly displaced population continue to mount. Our aid operation is currently focused on the north of the country. Many of the displaced have found temporary shelter with friends and relatives, in hotels, schools, mosques, parks and unfinished buildings. An increasing number with no other options are seeking shelter in camps that are either in the process of being opened or in the planning stages. Twice this week, we have sent tents and other relief items with a convoy into Sinjar a poor and remote region of Ninewa province where some 30,000 people fleeing Tal Afar and elsewhere have gathered in recent days.

UNHCR and its partners have conducted assessments with close to 2,700 households in the urban areas of Erbil and Duhok. Seventy per cent of these IDP families told us they intend to return to Mosul soon because they are running out of money. Some have resorted to selling personal items to pay for shelter. Others have already left, and our colleagues monitoring checkpoints between provinces report movement in both directions.

We continue to ramp up our response to support these and others in need, distributing tents, mattresses, blankets, water containers and hygiene kits, kitchen sets and stoves for some 14,000 people sheltering in transit camps and urban locations. To date, UNHCR has provided aid to displaced people in the Khazair transit camp in Erbil governorate, the Garmawa camp and Zummar and Shekhan cities in Duhok governorate, to Sinjar in Ninewa governorate, to Sulymaniah city and Khanaqin town in Diyala governorate.

With fighting currently underway in different parts of the country, the displacement crisis could escalate further. Alongside our sister agencies and NGO partners in Iraq, UNHCR is revising its requirements and will soon issue a new appeal to cover the needs of a million displaced Iraqis displaced in 2014.

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