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UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

24 April 2003

Refugees in Jordan

There are currently 325 persons in the UNHCR/Jordanian Hashemite Charity Organisation (JHCO) camp at Ruwaished, all of them Palestinians, some with Jordanian spouses. Small numbers of Palestinians continue to trickle into the no man's land; they are being shifted to the refugee camp at Ruwaished with transport from the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

More than 900 people remain in the makeshift no man's land encampment on Jordan's border with Iraq, including 27 Iraqis, 833 Iranian ethnic Kurds from Al Tash camp, and 55 other Iranians.

While we received undertakings from senior government officials in Amman during meetings yesterday that the Iraqi refugees would be allowed to cross the border, it seems that authorities at Al Karama have not yet received the go-ahead to permit them to cross. Five Iraqis who were allowed into Jordan several weeks ago are currently sheltered at Ruwaished's Red Crescent/IOM camp.

Everyone stuck in the windswept no man's land camp is very worried about their fate. No one should be summarily returned to Iraq.

Very basic services are being provided in the makeshift no man's land site, but conditions in the border zone are really miserable due to the wind continually blowing dust through the tents.

Among the more than 900 people waiting in the no man's land are some 400 children. Every day there's a long line of people seeking medical care for various minor ailments. Médecins Sans Frontières-Holland (MSF-H) is handling basic health care and vaccinations of children at the site. Oxfam is delivering water and improving the very basic sanitation facilities. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is providing food parcels, and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing bread. The refugees in the no man's land still face some problems with food, as they lack access to fruit and vegetables since they are unable to get to any markets.

Refugees in Syria

Following the recent deportation of 44 persons back to Iraq reported earlier this week, Syria's El Hol camp currently shelters some 120 Iraqis. Another 26 Palestinians are at present sheltered in El Hol, as well as some 50 other third country nationals. We currently have 340 tents erected at El Hol camp.

Developments in Iraq

In Iraq, UNHCR's national staff in the northern governorate of Dohuk report that life is returning to normal and that the refugee settlements in the north are calm. They said that goods are available in plentiful supply in the local markets, especially with the resumption of normal trading activity from Turkey, as well as from Syria.

According to our colleagues in the north, the lack of normal electrical voltage is disrupting some services like water pumping stations and health care facilities that require stable voltage and electricity supplies to run machinery. For this reason, our staff report that there has been a shortage of drinking water in the Dohuk area. Health facilities in Dohuk are functioning, they said, but the health authority is under pressure as it is now also overseeing a hospital and four health centres in Sheikhan and Fa'ida districts. Immunization teams are reportedly going about their work once again, but some medical stocks and vaccines are said to be in short supply, they said after meeting with the local health authority.

At Makhmour refugee camp, south-west of Erbil, the refugees there are reportedly fine, and they have been in contact with the new administration in Makhmour town. The only reported problems at the camp are a lack of water caused by power cuts, which local authorities from Erbil are addressing. Medical supplies in the camp's clinic are also in short supply.

In southern Iraq, our colleague who came out of Umm Qasr following a day-long mission Wednesday made contacts with local authorities, which should help us as we begin to develop a network in the south. Everywhere she went she was confronted by people in need, particularly children seeking any kind of assistance. Southern Iraq was shunned by authorities in Baghdad, particularly over the last decade, and the needs in that region are great.

Many of the more than 200,000 refugees currently sheltered in Iran came from southern Iraq, so a great deal of humanitarian and developmental assistance will be required in that region before people can return to a stable environment, and security will also have to be restored. We plan on sending staff into Basra this Saturday to begin establishing contacts with local authorities in Iraq's second largest city.