Finding refuge in Iraq's Kurdistan region

News Stories, 16 June 2014

© UNHCR/S.Baldwin
This brother and sister have found shelter with their family in a primary school in Iraqi Kurdistan's Duhok governorate. Finding shelter for the vast majority of those who have fled Iraq's latest fighting is a major challenge.

KHAZAIR CHECKPOINT, Iraq (UNHCR) They left in a hurry. A farmer abandoned his crops in the field. A mother fled with her newborn, just six days old, in white swaddling clothes. Another woman managed to bring just one possession: her government ID.

Some 300,000 Iraqis, by official count, have fled fighting in northern Iraq and sought shelter in Iraq's comparatively peaceful Kurdistan region over the past week. Most ran from the upsurge in violence in Iraq's second city of Mosul.

They've found refuge with friends and relatives. Others are being hosted in mosques and disused schools. But finding adequate shelter for "the vast majority" of those who have fled Iraq's latest fighting is a "major challenge," said UNHCR's Iraq Representative Shoko Shimozawa.

The UN refugee agency and its partners in the region, including the local government, are targeting the most vulnerable families for emergency assistance, she said. But "with the sudden mass movement of people and concerns that there could be further displacement if the fighting doesn't stop, we urgently need extra funds to meet people's basic needs."

Those needs are increasing. Tayba, 48, is a widow and mother of five. She arrived at a checkpoint on the border of northern Iraq on the same day last week that Mosul fell. "There were bombs and shooting and bullets even in the garden of our house," she recalled.

She and her children ran from their home only to watch as a neighbour was shot in the head in crossfire and died in front of them. "There was firing from different directions, we couldn't even tell where it was coming from," she said, gesturing frantically.

Eventually, Tayba and three of her five children, including an 11-year-old daughter, who lives with disability, found a car to the border. That car ran out of gas but another passerby gave her family a lift to the Khazair checkpoint, where she spoke to UNHCR. "I don't know why the situation is like this," she said. "It is very bad. In Iraq, the war is not coming to an end. It keeps on happening. I will stay here until they tell me the situation in our home is safe."

Fawzya, a mother of 10, is facing a similar plight. She fled her home in Mosul last week in the middle of the night, with only her identity card in her pocket. "My children were all crying and frightened," she said. "Some were sick. Others could barely walk. But we had to leave."

Some of the newly displaced are living in the open, in parks and built-up areas. Others are crammed into hotel rooms with several other families, though savings to pay for those rooms are running low. Children begging in the city of Erbil say they are trying to get enough money to help afford a night's rest for their families.

UNHCR and its partners, including the local government, are providing tents as well as food, kitchen sets and other emergency supplies. One transit camp has been set up at Khazair in Erbil governorate by local authorities and another is under construction at Garmawa in Duhok governorate, but has started taking people in.

"We used to have a good life," said Amal Mahmood Ismail, 44, the mother of five, not all of whom made it with her to safety. "We were not rich, nor poor. We had breakfast together every morning." She paused to wipe away tears. "My daughters are here, but my son is somewhere else. My husband is sick and my heart is broken."

For UNHCR and its partners, working to help those like Amal who've suddenly found themselves caught up in a new chapter of Iraq's decade-old war, the challenges are obvious.

By Rocco Nuri and Liene Veide at Khazair Checkpoint, Iraq




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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

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After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

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The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

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