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Iraqis trickle into Jordan and Syria; UNHCR assesses damage after turbulence at borders

Iraqis trickle into Jordan and Syria; UNHCR assesses damage after turbulence at borders

Small groups of Iraqis and third-country nationals have arrived in Jordan and Syria this week. Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency has sent staff to assess the damage to refugee camps from strong winds in eastern Jordan and nearby explosions in eastern Syria.
8 April 2003
The UN refugee agency's camp at Ruwaished, eastern Jordan, can shelter up to 10,000 refugees, and can be expanded if more Iraqis arrive.

RUWAISHED, Jordan, April 8 (UNHCR) - Small numbers of Iraqis have started trickling into Jordan and Syria, but there are no reports of large-scale refugee movements.

In Jordan, one Iraqi woman with two children arrived on Tuesday, while another Iraqi woman and her teenage son entered the country late Monday. An elderly Iraqi woman suffering from a serious illness arrived earlier on the same day. They are currently being accommodated at the Red Crescent/ IOM (International Organization for Migration) site in Ruwaished, eastern Jordan.

In Syria, three Iraqi families representing 11 people entered through the Abu Kamal border on Monday and were transported to UNHCR's El Hol camp. Another six arrived on the same day via the Al Yarubiyeh crossing, located near Iraq's principal northern city of Mosul.

In line with the Syrian government's open border policy that does not oblige new arrivals to stay in the El Hol camp, the six chose to travel onwards from the border, apparently to Damascus. A group of 14 Iraqis who arrived on March 23 were similarly allowed to proceed to the Syrian capital.

"We're so far not seeing a refugee exodus, but clearly some Iraqis are starting to leave, braving an uncertain security situation on routes leading west while paying the high price demanded by taxis plying the roads," said UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler at a press briefing in Amman on Tuesday. "No movements have been reported towards any of Iraq's other borders."

Third-country nationals have also continued arriving in Iraq's neighbouring countries. A group of 20 Palestinians who were held up in no man's land on Jordan's frontier were moved from the border and into Ruwaished on Tuesday, following UNHCR's intervention with the Jordanian authorities. At the same time some of the 33 Palestinians who had entered Jordan in recent weeks were allowed on Monday to travel to Amman.

At Ruwaished camp, UNHCR has undertaken initial screening of some 70 Somali nationals who are being accommodated at the Red Crescent's camp housing third country nationals.

Meanwhile, strong winds in eastern Jordan have destroyed three pre-fabricated warehouses at the Red Crescent's camp and one UNHCR tented warehouse. Efforts to assess the damage at Ruwaished are hampered by low visibility due to the high amount of wind-blown sand.

The Syrian border, too, has seen some turbulence in recent days. On Sunday, explosions rocked Al Yarubiyeh when a small village only a few hundred metres inside Iraq was apparently bombed. A similar bombing opposite the Abu Kamal border point, about a kilometre inside Iraq, forced UNHCR and IOM to urgently transfer several Iraqi and third country nationals from the nearby transit site.

On Tuesday morning, UNHCR staff based in Al Hasakah travelled together with MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) and IOM staff to the Al Yarubiyeh border crossing to check on the preparations at the transit site and security in the area.

In Rome, UNHCR announced on Tuesday that the Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, will join hands with U2 Irish rock band leader Bono in May at a charity concert in Modena, Italy, to raise funds for people displaced by the Iraq conflict.