As danger mounts in Iraq, UN urges parties to protect civilians

23 March 2003

With danger mounting amid military activity in Iraq, the United Nations today repeated its call for the parties to shield innocent people from the impact of the fighting.

"The already very vulnerable Iraqi population is now facing the grim prospect of growing casualties as hostilities intensify," said David Wimhurst, spokesperson for UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq. "The UN continues to urge all the parties to this conflict to do their utmost to protect the lives of the civilian population."

Geoffrey Keele, a spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), recalled the agency's longstanding concern about the impact of war on young people. "Children are the most vulnerable during conflict and it leaves emotional, mental and sometimes physical scars," he said. "We are extremely concerned about the children inside Iraq and the stress and emotional impact this could be having on them."

UNICEF today continued its drive to help the most vulnerable Iraqis, delivering food and blankets to the Hanan childcare institution in Kerbala. UNICEF national staff, at the request of caregivers, also gave supplies to a centre for the elderly in the same town.

Following a shower of missiles yesterday in the Halabja area in Sulaymaniyah, near the Iranian border, families have been fleeing for Soran, where they have taken refuge in local schools. "We estimate the total number of internally displaced persons to be about 1,300," Mr. Wimhurst said.

He also voiced concern over the fact that checkpoints on the dividing line between the government-controlled territory in the south and the three northern governorates are now closed. "Although six internally displaced people were able to cross to the north by alternative routes yesterday, these checkpoint closures will prevent many from seeking shelter in the north," he said, calling attention to the high risk faced by those denied access to safer areas.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) today sent another plane carrying 40 tons of high-energy biscuits to Kuwait. "Now we have 80 tons stored in Kuwait for potential refugees or to take them inside Iraq when the need arises," said agency spokesman Khaled Mansour.

In a bid to help accommodate those fleeing military activity in Mosul and Kirkuk, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that an agency representative in Syria has reached an agreement with the Governor of Hasakah Province on the establishment of a refugee camp at the Al Yarubiyah border crossing, and for a second facility at Al Tanf. Work on these newly approved camps is slated to begin this week.

 

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