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UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

UN Humanitarian Briefing on Iraq

31 March 2003


Two Boeing 747 cargo jets landed today at Jordan's Queen Alia International airport loaded with 160 family size tents donated by the Japanese government for the UN refugee agency's (UNHCR's) regional stockpile for Iraqi refugees.

The tents were received by Japan's ambassador in Jordan, Koichi Obata, and UNHCR representative Sten Bronee.

"We're very pleased with the contribution of the Japanese government," Bronee said. "When the needs arise, we've always had a very positive response from the Japanese government."

UNHCR plans to send part of the Japanese contribution to its forward stockpile at Ruwaished, in eastern Jordan. The Jordan Hashemite Charty Organisation, UNHCR's main partner, has prepared a refugee camp in Ruwaished, some 60 kilometres from the Iraqi frontier.

"This comes at an important time," Bronee said. "The crisis has only just started."

Jordan's camp at Ruwaished can shelter up to 10,000 refugees, and be expanded if more Iraqis arrive. UNHCR's relief agency partners have constructed a water distribution network in the camp and built 80 flush toilets sufficient for at least 1,600 people, and additional water and sanitation works are underway to ensure adequate services should more Iraqis arrive at the camp.

So far, there have been no significant refugee movements from Iraq into surrounding countries.

Any tents that are not immediately needed will be stored at the refugee agency's stockpile in Amman, from where they may be dispatched to Syria, where UNHCR has already dispatched items for 10,000 people and together with that government, is upgrading Al Hawl camp and preparing transit sites at border crossings from Iraq. UNHCR is also examining a possible second refugee camp in Syria at Sabaa Biar.

UNHCR last week launched a $154 million appeal for assistance to help countries in the region prepare for the arrival of up to 600,000 refugees. The UN refugee agency has so far received more than $25 million from donor countries, while it has spent more than $29 million pre-positioning relief aid and staff in the six countries bordering Iraq.


Large numbers of Iraqis continue to approach our Damascus office seeking temporary protection letters. Today we received more than 900 Iraqis, while yesterday our office was besieged by more than 750 Iraqis. Most appear to have been living in Syria since long before the war started on 20 March.

Each of these Iraqis received a temporary protection letter. We are looking into possible vulnerable individuals, such as elderly or handicapped persons, to see if they need any specific assistance.

All appear to be living with family or other relatives in Damascus or nearby towns; no one has requested to be transferred to Al Hawl camp.

Normally, our Damascus office receives only 40 to 50 Iraqis daily. Last Sunday, 23 March, we saw the number shoot up to 150, so it appears that more of Syria's Iraqis are seeking us out.

Also in Syria, we have dispatched a field team to Dayr Az Zawr, from where they will monitor the Abu Kamal border. Tomorrow, staff will move onwards to Al Hasakah, which will be our base of operations in eastern Syria, and from where we will monitor the Al Yarubiyeh and Faysh Khabur border crossings in the far north-east of the country.