UNHCR concerned for Syrian refugees in Iraq as number of arrivals arises

News Stories, 2 April 2013

© UNHCR/B.Sokol
Syrian refugee children play beside tents in Domiz refugee camp.

GENEVA, April 2 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Tuesday warned that 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," spokesman Adrian Edwards told journalists in Geneva. "The need for space for new camps, and to decongest existing camps is of paramount importance."

Edwards said the situation at Domiz camp, in north-west Iraq's Dohuk governorate, is especially worrying. "The Domiz camp is currently housing 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 five years of age suffering from diarrhoea in the camp has doubled in recent weeks. Since February, on average nine children out of every 100 suffer from diarrhoea per week," Edwards said. "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. Edwards said UNHCR was encouraged by a recent decision by the authorities of Erbil and Sulaymaniya to allocate more space. However, the space offered can accommodate only 25,000 people or one third of the need.

As of March 28, more than 121,000 Syrian refugees had 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 Al-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.

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," Edwards said.

Last year, almost 5,000 kits with core relief items were distributed to some 7,500 Syrian refugees in Domiz and Al Qa'im. Last winter, UNHCR, partner agencies and the government distributed 25,000 thermal blankets as well as heaters, kerosene and quilts.

Elsewhere in the region the flight of refugees from Syria is continuing. As of March 28, more than 1.21 million Syrians had been registered or were 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.

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

Syria Emergency: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis

A Face in a Million: the Struggle of Syria's Refugees in Lebanon

They are everywhere in Lebanon - 1 million Syrian refugees, in a land of 4.8 million people. There are no refugee camps in Lebanon. Instead, most rent apartments and others live in makeshift shelters and in garages, factories and prisons. Three years after the Syria crisis began, Lebanon has become the country with the highest concentration per capita of refugees in the world. It's struggling to keep pace with the influx. Rents have spiked, accommodation is scarce; food prices are rising. Meanwhile, a generation could be lost. Half of Syria's refugees are children; most don't go to school. Instead many of them work to help their families survive. Some marry early, others must beg to make a bit of money. Yet they share the same dream of getting an education.

In the northern city of Tripoli, many of the Syrians live in Al Tanak district, dubbed "Tin City." Long home to poor locals, it is now a surreal suburb - garbage piled to one side, a Ferris wheel on the other. The inhabitants share their dwellings with rats. "They're as big as cats," said one. "They're not scared of us, we're scared of them."

Award-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario visited Tin City and other areas of Lebanon with UNHCR to show the faces and suffering of Syrians to the world. Addario, in publications such as The New York Times and National Geographic, has highlighted the victims of conflict and rights abuse around the world, particularly women.

A Face in a Million: the Struggle of Syria's Refugees in Lebanon

Syria Crisis Third Anniversary: A Child of the Conflict

Ashraf was born the very day the Syria conflict began: March 15, 2011. He is the seventh child in a family from Homs. Within a week of his birth, the conflict arrived in his neighbourhood. For months his family rarely left the house. Some days there was non-stop bombing, others were eerily quiet. On the quiet days, Ashraf's mother made a run with him to the local health clinic for vaccinations and check-ups.

When Ashraf was about 18 months old, his aunt, uncle and cousin were murdered - their throats slit - as the boy slept nearby in his family's home. Terrified that they were next, Ashraf's family crammed into their car, taking a few precious belongings, and drove to the border.

They left behind their home, built by Ashraf's father and uncle. Within days the house was looted and destroyed. Photographer Andrew McConnell visited the family at their new home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, which was also built by Ashraf's father and uncle. Located on the edge of a muddy field, it is a patchwork of plastic sheeting, canvas and scrap metal. The floor is covered with blankets and mattresses from UNHCR. They now face new challenges such as the daily battle to keep the children warm, dry and protected from rats. Ashraf still starts at sudden loud noises, but the doctor told his mother that the boy would get used to it.

Syria Crisis Third Anniversary: A Child of the Conflict

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud

Mahmoud,15, hasn't been to school in 3 years. In his native Syria, his parents were afraid to send him because of the civil war. They ended up fleeing a year ago when, in the early morning hours, a bomb fell on a nearby house. The family, still groggy from being jolted awake, grabbed what they could and fled to Lebanon. Their home and the local school have since been destroyed.

In Lebanon, Mahmoud's father is unable to find work and now the family can barely afford rent.

A month ago, Mahmoud started working for tips cleaning fish at a small shop next to his home. He makes about $60 USD a month. With this money he helps pay rent on his family's tiny underground room, shared between his parents and eight brothers and sisters. Mahmoud is proud to help his family but with the fish shop located in the same subterranean structure as his home, he barely goes out into the sunshine.

Children like Mahmoud, some as young as seven, often work long hours for little pay, and in some cases in dangerous conditions. These children forfeit their future by missing out on an education and the carefree years of childhood. Many are also traumatized by what they witnessed back in Syria.

UNHCR and its partners together with local governments are providing financial assistance to help vulnerable Syrian refugee families cover expenses like rent and medical care, which means there is less need to pull children out of school and put them to work. UN agencies and their partners have also established case management and referral systems in Jordan and Lebanon to identify children at risk and refer them to the appropriate services.

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud

Syria: Aid Reaches Eastern AleppoPlay video

Syria: Aid Reaches Eastern Aleppo

An agreement between the Syrian Government and the opposition allows UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to deliver humanitarian assistance to the besieged city of Aleppo.
Iraq: Khaled Hosseini VisitPlay video

Iraq: Khaled Hosseini Visit

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini, a former refugee from Afghanistan, met Syrian refugees during a trip to northern Iraq. The best-selling novelist talked to many of the refugees, including an aspiring young writer.
Jordan: Syrian Refugees' Housing CrisisPlay video

Jordan: Syrian Refugees' Housing Crisis

Hundreds of thousands of refugees living in urban areas are struggling to survive. They face rising rents, inadequate accommodation, and educational challenges for their children.