UNHCR phases out assistance to Atroush camp in Northern Iraq
UNHCR today announced that its assistance programmes for Atroush camp in Northern Iraq, which houses some 14,000 Turkish Kurdish refugees, would be phased out within one month.
The announcement was made to the camp population by the local authorities in the area. The last food and kerosene delivery to the camp was made last weekend.
The move follows earlier announcements by UNHCR that it would soon disband the camp. Today's announcement to the refugees said "The humanitarian and non-political nature of the camp has been compromised to such an extent that UNHCR is no longer in a position to provide services at this location". UNHCR has been particularly concerned that activists in this camp have been making it impossible for refugees to choose freely whether or not to return to Turkey.
The High Commissioner, Mrs Sadako Ogata, said "We are not abandoning the refugees, most of whom are women, children and old men. They will not be forced back to Turkey. UNHCR will assist on an individual basis those who opt to stay in Northern Iraq. But we can no longer assist a camp where people are deprived of their basic freedoms and which has become politicised to an unacceptable extent".
From today, the local authorities will make transport available to take the refugees from Atroush to transit sites at Muqibla and Balqus. Here they will be given assistance for up to one month while they make their decisions.
They will be told of assurances given by the Turkish government that they will be welcomed if they wish to return home. The High Commissioner expects the safety of the refugees to be fully respected by all parties during this transfer operation.
UNHCR officials are seeking a meeting with elders from the camp population tomorrow to discuss the situation, in particular following reports that some refugees have begun hunger strikes.