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UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

4 April 2003

There have so far been no significant refugee movements from Iraq.

The Syrian government confirmed this week during talks in Damascus its open-door policy towards Iraqis. The government's position is that all Iraqis will receive the necessary temporary protection during this conflict.

Following the outbreak of war on 20 March, UNHCR advised states that Iraqi asylum seekers should receive temporary protection for an initial period of three months. Earlier this year, UN High Commissioner [for Refugees] Ruud Lubbers wrote to governments in the Iraq region requesting them to open their borders to Iraqis in the event of a war.

This week's affirmation by the Syrian authorities will reassure Iraqis currently residing there. Over the last week, our office in Damascus has been approached by more than 2,600 Iraqis seeking to register with UNHCR, far more than the usual 40 individuals that we normally receive daily. Only a fraction of those Iraqis who approached us have arrived since the outbreak of fighting.

The vast majority of the Iraqis said that they left due to fear of war or concerns about the possible deterioration of the security situation. Mainly Shi'ite Muslims, most arrived in Syria with their families, although some women said their husbands stayed behind in Iraq to watch over their property.

UNHCR is currently expanding the Al Hawl refugee camp in north-eastern Syria to accommodate Iraqis in the event of a large influx. We have stockpiled supplies for 10,000 people at Al Hawl, and we're currently shipping additional items from our regional warehouse in Turkey to ensure that we have sufficient stocks for 20,000 people on hand.

So far, the Iraqis in Damascus are being accommodated with friends or relatives. As the Syrian authorities have said that all Iraqis will get blanket protection, we've informed Syria's Iraqi community that there is no need to register with UNHCR.