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UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

8 April 2003

Small numbers of Iraqis are starting to trickle into Jordan and Syria.

In Jordan, one woman with two children was admitted today, while another Iraqi woman and her teenage son entered the country late yesterday. An elderly Iraqi woman suffering from a serious illness arrived earlier on Monday. These people are currently being accommodated at the Red Crescent/IOM [International Organization for Migration] site in Ruweished.

To the north, three Iraqi families representing 11 people entered Syria yesterday at the Abu Kamal border and were transported this morning to the El Hol camp. Another six arrived on Monday via the Al Yarubiyeh crossing, located near Iraq's principal northern city of Mosul. As the Syrian government has adopted a flexible, open border policy, and does not oblige new arrivals to stay in UNHCR's El Hol camp, they travelled onwards from the border, apparently to Damascus. A group of 14 Iraqis who arrived on 23 March were similarly allowed to proceed to the Syrian capital.

We're so far not seeing a refugee exodus, but clearly some Iraqis are starting to leave, braving an uncertain security situation on routes leading west while paying the high price demanded by taxis plying the roads. No movements have been reported towards any of Iraq's other borders.

The 20 Palestinians who were held up in no-man's-land at Jordan's Al Karama border were moved to Ruwaished this morning. Also yesterday, three families from the 33 Palestinians who were previously allowed to enter Jordan were permitted to travel to Amman.

Eastern Jordan is right now being swept by a driving sand storm since early this morning. One of our prefabricated warehouses at Ruweished was destroyed, and several others have been damaged.

While the number of reported Iraqi refugee arrivals is very low, Iraqis back in their homeland still face many dangers.

This is perhaps the most worrisome phase of the war, as millions of civilians are caught up amidst the constantly shifting front-lines and changing allegiances. Curfews reportedly declared by the Iraqi government from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. have certainly worked to keep people indoors, as have other reported warnings for civilians to stay at home, including from the US-led forces.

While all Iraqis are confronted by a precarious humanitarian situation, another real danger they face is the breakdown of law and order, and the threats posed by irregular, armed elements. Iraq is no stranger to the violence that can tear communities apart and drive people into exile. The belligerents have the responsibility under the Geneva Conventions to maintain law and order and care for civilians in areas under their control. It is absolutely vital that all parties work to ensure that civilian populations' humanitarian and security needs are met.