UNHCR appealing for more space and support for Syrian refugees in Iraq

Briefing Notes, 2 April 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 2 April 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With the Syria crisis now into its third year, and refugees continuing to cross borders to neighbouring countries in large numbers, pressure to accommodate refugees is growing. UNHCR is particularly concerned at the present situation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where refugees are arriving at a rate of 800-900 people per day double the rate of just three months ago. The need for space for new camps, and to decongest existing camps is of paramount importance.

The situation at Domiz camp, in northwest Iraq's Dohuk Governorate, is especially worrying. The Domiz camp is currently housing around 35,000 Syrian refugees and is critically overcrowded. Thousands of families are sharing tents with newly arrived refugees as almost 3,500 families do not have their own shelters.

The crowding is in turn having an impact on sanitation, which is already below humanitarian standards. Congestion and warmer temperatures are increasing vulnerability to outbreaks of diseases as well as to tension between camp residents. The number of children below 5 years of age suffering from diarrhoea in the camp has doubled in recent weeks: Since February, on average nine children out of every hundred suffer from diarrhoea per week. Additionally, there have been 62 cases of Hepatitis A since the beginning of the year. UNHCR, UNICEF and WHO are conducting a joint assessment to address the observed increase.

UNHCR has been working with the Government of Iraq and authorities in Kurdistan since last October with a view to ensuring the allocation of more space. The hospitality and support to Syrian refugees demonstrated by the Government and the people of Iraq has been extraordinary. UNHCR is encouraged by a recent decision of the Governorate of Erbil and Suleymania to allocate more space. However, the allocated space can accommodate only 25,000 people or only one third of the need.

As of 28 of March, 121,320 Syrian refugees have registered in Iraq. More than 90 per cent are hosted in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Most new arrivals are families from Qamishli city, while others come from Hassakeh, Aleppo and Damascus. While refugee camps have been established at Al Qa'im and Dohuk, more than 60 per cent of registered refugees in the Kurdistan Region are being hosted by Iraqi communities or are living in unfinished houses/apartments.

UNHCR has a permanent presence at both Domiz and Al Qa'im. Together with partners and the Government, we are responding to the needs of urban refugees and those living in the camps through support to the reception and registration mechanisms, distribution of emergency shelter and essential life sustaining items such as blankets, mattresses, and kitchen sets, and help for people to access education, health, and other activities. During 2012 almost 5,000 kits with core relief items were distributed to some 7,500 Syrian refugees in Domiz and Al Qa'im refugee camps. Last winter UNHCR, partner agencies and the Government distributed some 25,000 thermal blankets in addition to heaters, kerosene and quilts as part of winter aid.

Elsewhere in the region the flight of refugees from Syria is continuing. As of 28 March 1,217,782 Syrians had been registered or are awaiting registration in the region. Registration is a key tool through which refugees are identified, protected and assisted, and UNHCR has introduced extraordinary measures to expand registration capacities. These have included the establishment of new registration centres, double shifts, and emergency procedures, resulting in a significant reduction of the waiting period.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Baghdad: Natalia Prokopchuk on mobile +964 780 921 7341
  • In Beirut: Reem Alsalem on mobile + 961 71 911 388
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
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UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

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