UNHCR aid reaches displaced from Fallujah and Ramadi

News Stories, 14 January 2014

© UNHCR/R.Rasheed
A Syrian boy and girl on Iraq territory after crossing a river border crossing into northern Iraq.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, January 14 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that it has been able to deliver aid over the past week to some of the estimated 70,000 people displaced by fighting and insecurity in central Iraq's Anbar province.

"Aid from the UN and partner agencies has been reaching some of the affected communities since January 8, and yesterday a further 12 trucks of UNHCR relief reached neighbourhoods around Fallujah, carrying non-food aid," spokesman Adrian Edwards said, adding that the International Rescue Committee was conducting the distribution for UNHCR.

"At present, insecurity and access difficulties are still hampering the overall effort. The UN is advocating with the government of Iraq to ensure access to displaced persons and safe passage of humanitarian aid," he added.

The Iraqi government has lost territory in central Iraq since clashes erupted in late December, displacing some 70,000 people in Anbar, according to Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration. Most of the displaced are located in areas around the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, but authorities in other central and northern provinces report the arrival of hundreds of displaced families there too.

"The displacement in central Iraq is impacting other regions of the country. Authorities in the northern Kurdistan Region of Iraq report that some 14,000 people have arrived in the last two weeks from Anbar. UNHCR is coordinating with the regional government to establish their locations and assess immediate needs," Edwards said.

Although the displaced are said to be mainly accommodated with family or staying in hotels, UNHCR is coming across families living in abandoned houses and half-built homes that are in urgent need of assistance. At the request of the authorities in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, UNHCR and its partners are refurbishing a transit centre at Baharka to accommodate more displaced people.

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner António Guterres accompanied UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a visit Tuesday to a refugee camp in northern Iraq hosting 13,000 Syrian refugees. Valerie Amos, the UN's emergency relief coordinator, also joined the visit to Kawergosk Refugee Camp near Erbil to show solidarity with the refugees.

Ban Ki-moon, who will attend a pledging conference in Kuwait tomorrow and chair an international peace conference on Syria next week in Geneva, said he was there to listen to the concerns and aspirations of the refugees. "I am particularly saddened to see so many young children and women and vulnerable groups of people who suffer from this man-made tragedy," he added, before thanking the Kurdistan Regional Government for hosting tens of thousands of refugees from Syria.

The Syrians in the camp crossed into northern in August 2013, amid an influx of some 60,000 people before the border was closed in mid-September.

Earlier this month the Peshkabour crossing was reopened. Since then some 5,000 people have crossed, and several hundred now arrive every day. Of these only around 900 have registered with UNHCR.

These people are transferred to a reception centre where they are given basic assistance before being moved to the Gawilan refugee camp by the International Organization for Migration. Other recent arrivals have arranged their own transportation and are apparently going to Erbil and Suleimaniya to join families, while some proceed to Zakho and Dohuk.

"Authorities in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq have told us that they are adopting a flexible approach to the arrivals and those Syrians who do not want to stay as refugees can remain for up to seven days or approach the local authorities to legalize longer-term stay," said spokesman Edwards.

Only 30 per cent of the Syrian refugees in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq stay in camps, while the rest live in host communities. Currently Iraq hosts some 250,000 Syrians, of whom some 212,000 are registered as refugees.

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Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

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Hassan is a qualified surgeon, but by a twist of fate he now finds himself specializing in the treatment of refugees. In 2006, as conflict raged in Iraq, he spent 10 weeks treating hundreds of ill and injured Iraqis at a refugee camp in eastern Syria.

Six years later his own world turned upside down. Fleeing the bloodshed in his native Syria, Doctor Hassan escaped to neighbouring Iraq in May 2012 and sought refuge in the homeland of his former patients. "I never imagined that I would one day be a refugee myself," he says. "It's like a nightmare."

Like many refugees, Hassan looked for ways to put his skills to use and support his family. At Domiz Refugee Camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, he found work in a clinic run by Médecins Sans Frontières. He works long hours, mainly treating diarrhoea and other preventable illnesses. More than half of his patients are Syrian refugee children - not unlike his own two boys.

During the two days that photographer Brian Sokol followed Hassan, he rarely stood still for more than a few minutes. His day was a blur of clinical visits punctuated by quick meals and hurried hellos. When not working in the clinic, he was making house calls to refugees' tents late into the night.

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