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Iraq region latest

Briefing notes

Iraq region latest

4 April 2003

Overview: There have been no substantial movements of Iraqi refugees in the region. UNHCR staff in neighbouring states continue to monitor borders. We have UNHCR supplies in place in the region for 350,000 people. Together with our partners, including national Red Crescent societies, we can cover the non-food needs of 600,000 people in neighbouring states, if necessary. Our current stocks include more than 954,000 blankets, 64,000 family tents, 216,000 mattresses, 151,000 water/fuel cans, 76,000 lanterns, 70,000 stoves, 56,000 kitchen sets, tons of plastic sheeting, soap, hygienic items and 21 prefabricated warehouses. As goods are offloaded from ships and transported to our principal warehouses in Aqaba, Iskenderun and Ahwaz, items are also being shifted to forward stockpiles throughout the region. UNHCR has so far received more than $34.5 million for its operation in the region (of $154 million in the latest appeal).

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. This welcome decision by Syria follows a letter earlier this year from High Commissioner Lubbers to all governments in the Iraq region requesting them to open their borders to Iraqis in the event of a war. Following the outbreak of war in Iraq on 20 March, UNHCR advised governments internationally that Iraqi asylum seekers should be given temporary protection for an initial period of three months. This week's affirmation by the Syrian authorities will reassure Iraqis currently residing in the country. 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 to 50 individuals that we normally receive. Most of those coming to the office had arrived in Syria well before the conflict erupted.

The vast majority of the Iraqis who sought to register with our office in Damascus since the war began said that they left due to fear of war or concerns about the possible deterioration of the security situation. Mainly Shi'ite Muslims, most of the Iraqis were entire families, although some men apparently stayed behind in Iraq to watch over their property. Only a fraction of those Iraqis who approached us recently arrived since the outbreak of fighting on 20 March. UNHCR is currently expanding the El Hol refugee camp in the north-east of the country to accommodate Iraqis in the event of a large influx. We have stockpiled supplies for 10,000 people at El Hol, and we're currently shipping additional items from our regional warehouse at Iskenderun, 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.