Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Iraq: Latest situation

Briefing notes

Iraq: Latest situation

21 March 2003

First, I'd like to urge you to regularly check the new "Iraq Emergency" page on the UNHCR website - perhaps a couple of times a day, because that is where we're posting all public information materials on our activities in the region. In addition to daily updates, it contains a lot of background information, maps, graphics and charts you may find useful.

General overview: So far, UNHCR offices in the region have not reported any mass movements of refugees into neighbouring states. You've probably seen reports of third country nationals leaving Iraq, but please keep in mind that these people are not refugees. The High Commissioner, as you know, has called on neighbouring states to keep their borders open so people fleeing Iraq can receive temporary protection and assistance.

We currently have relief supplies in place in the region for some 300,000 people and should reach 350,000 by the end of this month.

UNHCR requires $60 million to cover a contingency planning figure of 600,000 possible refugees in the region for a month and so far, we have received $22 million.

Iran: The border areas remained quiet as of midday today. There were sketchy reports yesterday of groups of 300 to 3,000 moving toward Iran and being stopped at the border, but our border monitors could not confirm any of these reports. As you know, the Iranian authorities have said repeatedly that in the event of war in Iraq, the borders will be sealed. But the President has assured the High Commissioner that Iran is prepared to meet its humanitarian obligations and allow refugees into Iran if lives are in danger.

Meanwhile, UNHCR's preparations are in full swing to meet the needs initially of 60,000 refugees, should there be an influx. We have provided $1 million dollars to the Iranian refugee agency, BAFIA, for the construction of infrastructure in four refugee camp sites in Iran's south-western provinces of Kermanshah, Khuzestan and Ilam. The funds are for the clearing of land mines, levelling, and building of water and sanitation facilities. For several months, we have also been stockpiling supplies in our warehouses in the key western cities of Kermanshah and Ahwaz, close to the four camp sites. We are prepared to distribute tents, blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets, sanitary napkins, stoves and lamps to those who are in need.

Initially, these four sites will each have a capacity to care for 15,000 refugees, a total of 60,000. Their capacities can be quickly expanded to care for 150,000 people. In addition, six other camp sites have been identified in the provinces along the south-western frontier and can be immediately put into operation as the need arises. Levelling and clearance of land mines and unexploded ordnance from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war have been completed in these six additional sites, which could accommodate up to 500,000 people.

Turkey: Two UNHCR monitoring teams based in southern Turkey were scheduled to go to the border with northern Iraq this morning to monitor the situation along the Turkish side. One team will be monitoring the eastern part of the border, starting from Hakkari, while the second will work from Habur gate towards the east. The two teams will try to determine the location of camps that have been mentioned by the Turkish government. The state minister in charge of emergency coordination, Mr. Mehmet Ali Sahin, stated yesterday that Turkish camps have been set up on both sides of the border. UNHCR in Turkey works with the government and the Turkish Red Crescent Society to assist refugees.

Jordan: UNHCR staff in Jordan are on duty along the border with Iraq, both at the Al Karama crossing and in Ruwaished, where two camps are being established for Iraqi refugees and third country nationals.

UNHCR has so far committed $1.13 million for preparatory measures in Jordan to help the government assist any refugees who may arrive. Of this sum, we have already provided $575,000 to the government and national and international relief agencies.

This week UNHCR signed agreements with the Ministry of Planning for $991,000, of which $470,000 has already been spent on site preparation, water drilling and distribution and electrical works at the Ruwaished refugee camp and in the border area by various government ministries.

We are erecting tents today at the Al Karama border crossing with Iraqi to shelter any refugees who may arrive.

The Swiss Embassy in Jordan has been very supportive of UNHCR's activities, and has provided some $680,000 earmarked for UNHCR Jordan. The Australian Embassy in Amman has announced plans to provide $800,000 for activities in Jordan.