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Refugees in Iraq camp to enjoy more services, rights after registration

News Stories, 4 July 2011

© UNHCR/H.Caux
A refugee and her two children take part in the registration exercise in Makhmour camp.

MAKHMOUR CAMP, Iraq, July 4 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and the Iraqi government have entered the final phase of registering refugees in Iraq with the recent completion of registration in Makhmour camp in the north.

The nationwide registration of refugees in Iraq was initiated by the government in 2008 and seeks to give the refugees a wider range of rights and services, including access to education and health care, and the right to work and travel.

Those registered to date include Palestinian refugees in Baghdad and Mosul as well as Syrian refugees in Mosul. The latest phase of the exercise was completed in Makhmour camp last weekend, registering a total of 10,240 Turkish refugees who received residency documents for the first time.

"It is quite an achievement," said Tarik Kurdi, UNHCR's deputy representative for the Iraq operation. "This registration is about building confidence internationally in the civilian nature of the camp."

Makhmour's inhabitants fled Turkey into Iraq in 1994. They first stayed in Atroush camp near the Turkish border, then split into two groups in 1997. Between 4,000 and 5,000 refugees moved to local settlements in the governorate of Dahuk and Erbil. A larger group relocated to Makhmour camp, which today looks like a small town with mud-brick houses and several shops selling food.

The recent registration was undertaken by Iraq's Ministry of Interior Permanent Committee for Refugee Affairs with help from UNHCR.

"In Makhmour, UNHCR has been assisting in the organization of the whole registration process, including training ministry staff for the collect of data, and providing the appropriate technical equipment," said Iraj Imomberdiev, UNHCR's acting head in Erbil. A UNHCR team of four to six people including information technology officers were present during the whole registration which lasted several months in the camp.

Highlighting the importance of the exercise, UNHCR's Kurdi said, "The registration is a crucial step for refugees who will strengthen their refugee status by receiving a refugee residence card entitling them to several benefits, including travelling throughout Iraq without any restriction."

The card is initially valid for one year and thereafter renewable for five years. With it, refugees can be issued a travel document allowing them to travel, for instance for students who want to study abroad. The refugees will also have access to Iraqi courts to register marriages. They will also have the right to medical services and education provided by the government, as well as the right to work.

Some 2,000 refugees from the camp already work in companies or as daily labourers in the nearby town of Makhmour or even in Erbil, 90 minutes away. With the recent the registration, they may be able to access government posts, an opportunity university graduates have requested for several years.

Registered refugees will also have the right to own land, property, cars and businesses. They can receive a public distribution system card from the government, which will entitle them to receive food rations as all Iraqi citizens and residents do.

UNHCR's work in Makhmour includes monitoring the general situation and providing cash assistance on a case-by-case basis to the most vulnerable refugees, such as those with chronic illnesses. The agency also provides transport fees for young refugees studying in Erbil and Dahuk, and conducts protection and social activities for women and youth through two implementing partners.

Following Makhmour camp, UNHCR and the government of Iraq will soon start a new registration of refugees in Barikacamp, home to more than1,900 refugees from Iran.

By Helene Caux in Makhmour Camp, Iraq




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The recording, verifying, and updating of information on people of concern to UNHCR so they can be protected and UNHCR can ultimately find durable solutions.

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

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By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

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