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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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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

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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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