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UNHCR begins moving thousands of Syrian refugees to new camp in Iraq

Making a Difference, 4 October 2013

© UNHCR/L.Veide
Three refugee children explore the new camp at Darashakran in northern Iraq.

DARASHAKRAN, Iraq, October 4 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has this week opened the world's newest refugee camp to help accommodate some of the tens of thousands of people who have fled the fighting inside Syria and sought refuge in northern Iraq during recent months.

On Sunday, UNHCR began moving the first of some 10,000 newly arrived refugees to be housed in Darashakran camp, which could later double in capacity. The first arrivals at the camp in Iraq's Erbil governorate were transferred from a temporary site at Bekhma, where they had been staying in abandoned buildings.

The first residents of the camp were positive about the move. "We thank God and are happy to be here," said Mahmoud, who arrived here on Sunday with his wife and five children. "UNHCR is really taking care of us," he added. Siva, who came with 11 relatives, said: "The first impression is good and we want to have a good life here."

Another refugee, Noh Ahmed, fled with his wife and five children (including four-month-old twins) to Iraq from Hassakeh in northern Syria in mid-August and was staying in Bekhma. "It was good there, but we did not have the same freedom of movement that we have in Darashakran," he said. He was happy also that his children could go to school and said he hoped to find a job.

UNHCR plans to move about 50 families a day (300 people) to the new camp, which has been built by the refugee agency with the support of the Kurdistan Regional Government, other key UN organizations and NGO partners.

The new facility was needed because the only other permanent refugee camp in northern Iraq, Domiz in Dohuk governorate, was severely overcrowded. Built in April last year to provide shelter for 30,000 people, it currently hosts 45,000 mainly Syrian Kurds.

"UNHCR and its partners have spent more than US$6 million preparing Darashakran for its new residents, but we must be prepared for further arrivals of refugees," said Claire Bourgeois, UNHCR's representative in Iraq. "With our donors, UNHCR will work to ensure that Iraq has the capacity to cope with current and future influxes of refugees, but we appeal for borders to be kept open to all persons seeking protection and assistance," she added.

Iraq has been welcoming Syrian refugees since early in the crisis which began in March 2011. But the number of refugees crossing the border rose dramatically last August, when more than 60,000 people flowed into northern Iraq from all parts of Syria.

With the help of the local authorities, temporary sites were prepared to cope with the inflow, including at Kawergosk (12,000 refugees), Qushtapa (3,000) and Basirma (2,500). More than 40,000 other recently arrived Syrian refugees are sheltered in other makeshift sites in Dohuk, Sulemaniyeh and Erbil governorates.

Each family being transferred to the new purpose-built camp is receiving a shelter unit that includes an all-weather tent; separate latrine; bathing area and cooking space to ensure privacy. So far some 2,000 shelters have been erected at Darashakran.

Utilising satellite imagery, geographic information systems, spatial analysis and mapping services, the French aid group ACTED developed a camp master plan to help construction experts establish a site the size of a small town.

UNHCR and its partners have ensured that Darashakran includes community space for psycho-social counselling and an employment centre where residents can learn about jobs in the neighbouring community. All the necessary food distribution facilities, roads, water and sanitation systems have been installed as well as adequate lighting in all public areas.

"The relocation of refugees to the new Darashakran camp is a significant step in the overall response to the needs of Syrian refugees and ensures they have adequate shelter to cope with the region's cold winter months while also providing for their basic needs such as health care and education," said William Tall, head of UNHCR's sub-office in Erbil.

Iraq currently shelters more than 193,000 registered Syrian refugees, mainly in Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyeh governorates, but also in Ninewa and Anbar governorates. UNHCR is coordinating the multi-sectoral refugee response, ensuring protection and assistance for refugees.




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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

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.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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