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Iraq Humanitarian Update No. 1

Iraq Humanitarian Update No. 1

24 March 2003

March 24, 2003

Borders remain calm as UNHCR preparations continue

UNHCR continued to prepare camp sites, transport relief supplies to the region and monitor possible border crossing points throughout the Iraq region over the weekend. No large-scale influx of refugees has been seen so far into any of the neighbouring countries, and border areas are reportedly calm. UNHCR has some 200 staff in the region and emergency teams are on standby for deployment from around the world.

Syria: Sites being readied, first refugees arrive

Fourteen Iraqi refugees arrived in Syria Sunday at the Al Yarubiyah crossing point, north-west of Mosul. These are the first refugee arrivals from Iraq since fighting began last week. They have been taken to UNHCR's camp at El Hol.

On Saturday, UNHCR's representative in Syria reached an agreement with the Governor of Hasakah Province on the establishment of a refugee camp at the Al Yarubiyah border crossing, and for a second facility at Al Tanf. Work on these newly approved camps will begin this week. Due to recent military activity around Mosul and Kirkuk, it was important to open a site at Al Yarubiyah so that we would be in position to help any Iraqis leaving the north.

A UNHCR team visited the Al Yarubiyah crossing point on Sunday, accompanied by government officials. It was decided to set up a reception centre some 4 kilometres from the border in an existing large walled-off compound. UNHCR and other UN agencies have begun to organize resources to build necessary infrastructure required for the reception centre.

Al Yarubiyah is about 100 kilometres from UNHCR's long-time refugee camp at El Hol. El Hol camp was first erected in 1991 and still shelters three Iraqi families who arrived 12 years ago and who never repatriated. In recent weeks El Hol camp has been enlarged with additional water and sanitation facilities, and UNHCR has erected 340 tents. Tents, plastic tarpaulins, blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets, stoves, lanterns and other items have been stored for up to 5,000 people at El Hol. Additional aid supplies are available at our regional warehouses in Jordan and Turkey. WFP has food aid available.

Along Syria's border with Iraq, UNHCR now has two mobile teams visiting border crossings. In addition to staff at Al Yarubiyah, a second team has been monitoring the Al Tanf crossing since Saturday. In recent days, some Third Country Nationals (TCNs) from Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen have crossed at the central Abu Kamal border. Overall, the border crossing points remain quiet.

Turkey: Teams monitor border, supplies arrive

In Turkey, UNHCR now has three mobile teams operating in the south-east, with two covering the western sector around Silopi, which remains calm. The third mobile team covering Turkey's eastern border with Iraq plans to visit Cukurca today (Monday). Cukurca, Turkey's second main entry point from Iraq, saw many refugee arrivals during the exodus 12 years ago. The UNHCR team monitoring the western sector of the Turkish-Iraqi border visited five border villages on Saturday and talked to the local authorities. They also visited the Uludere border crossing, which was the major refugee entry point in 1991. Despite reports of population displacement in the north of Iraq, Iraqis have so far not approached that frontier - people seem to be sticking close to their communities.

An eight-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 8,000 mattresses from our regional warehouse at Iskenderun, Turkey, was expected to arrive today at the Turkish Red Crescent warehouse in Silopi. Iskenderun is one of three main regional stockpiles - the others are at Aqaba, Jordan, and Ahwaz, Iran.

In Turkey, UNHCR has more than 60,000 blankets, 9,000 tents, 18,000 kitchen sets, 44,000 jerry cans, 58,000 mattresses, 15,000 stoves, 10,300 plastic rolls, 17,000 lanterns, and 11 prefabricated warehouses in our stockpile at Iskenderun. These supplies can be shifted into Syria if needed.

Jordan: Border quiet, camp preparations progress

The situation at Jordan's Al Karama border remains quiet. UNHCR staff continually check the frontier, chasing-up rumours of new population movements. There have been no refugee arrivals. UNHCR now has eight staff based at the Ruwaished camp and the Al Karama border crossing.

Late Saturday, 25 Somalis studying at the universities of Mosul and Baghdad were allowed into Jordan and are currently sheltered at IOM's third country nationals (TCN) camp. Twenty-four individuals (two families and two single men) are waiting for their cases to be resolved at the holding centre on the border. The Jordanian Red Crescent has erected 10 tents at the border, and UNHCR has delivered ten additional tents, as well as food, blankets and stoves. UNHCR legal officers are working with the Jordanian authorities to resolve their status.

The Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organisation/UNHCR camp at Ruwaished, some 60 kilometres west of the Iraqi border, can now accommodate up to 2,000 refugees. So far, 200 tents have been erected and workers have installed 80 flush latrines. The camp's water system, worked on by UNHCR's partner Oxfam, should be ready today, including showers. The main water tank has been installed and work is progressing at a good pace. Earthworks are also underway for latrines. Five metric tons of high energy biscuits and 1,000 ready-to-eat rations supplied by German Agro Action are in stock, and WFP food rations are available on request.

UNICEF has set up two large tents as recreational/education centres. Japan Platform has setup medical facilities in the camp. A prefab office was received and installed over the weekend for UNHCR at the camp. Five new tent warehouses (rubbhalls) arrived at Ruwaished on Sunday.

UNHCR initially plans to make the Ruwaished site ready for up to 10,000 people, and then to enlarge Ruwaished further as necessary.

Iran: More staff arrive, UNHCR releases funds for camps

Two international staff from Tehran travelled from the capital Saturday to strengthen UNHCR's existing office at Orumiyeh, in north-western Iran. In all, UNHCR has sent nine additional staff to its three offices in western Iran to monitor borders and the construction of four of the Iranian government's ten planned refugee camps.

UNHCR released $1 million on Thursday to prepare the four camp sites along the Iranian frontier with Iraq. The funds released to the Iranian refugee agency BAFIA are for expenses for preparatory work on the identified camp sites, including clearing land mines, constructing access roads and building water and sanitation facilities. Each of the four camp sites along the border inside south-western Iran will have a capacity for 15,000 refugees and can be expanded as the need arises. Ground levelling and demining have also been done on six other camp sites along the Iranian border.

UNHCR has stockpiled in its warehouses in Iran's western cities of Ahwaz and Kermanshah relief items such as tents, jerry cans, lamps, blankets, sanitary napkins, mattresses and supplementary food.

The Iranian government told High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers during a visit earlier this month that while Iran's policy is to close its borders, it is prepared to live up to its humanitarian obligations. Iran also said it needed international aid to deal with the refugees.

The situation remained calm along the Iraq-Iran border crossings. So far there are no reports of Iraqi refugee movements into Iran.

Lubbers urges Iraq's neighbours to keep borders open

Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers on Thursday urgently appealed to all governments neighbouring Iraq to keep their borders open to those in need of temporary protection and assistance. He also called for unrestricted access to all border areas by UNHCR emergency staff so they can monitor arrivals from Iraq and ensure that the rights of refugees are respected. Access is also needed to enable UNHCR staff to assist host nations in coping with the crisis.

"Despite all of the UN's efforts to find a peaceful solution, we are now faced with the sad reality of war in Iraq and more suffering for the Iraqi people," Lubbers said in a statement. "We must do everything we can to alleviate that suffering, including keeping borders open so that those fearing for their lives can reach safety in neighbouring states."

Funding Update

As of Monday, UNHCR had received $25 million of the $60 million it is seeking for its initial contingency preparations for up to 600,000 people for one month.