In the wake of a visit to a refugee camp for displaced Syrians in Iraq, senior United Nations officials have highlighted the urgent need for donor funding to increase the aid being provided to those fleeing the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
“With up to 1,000 Syrian refugees arriving in Iraq every week, the UN urgently requires additional funds to scale up its humanitarian assistance to all Syrian refugees in Iraq,” said the world body’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Jacqueline Badcock, who also serves as the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Development and Humanitarian Affairs in the Middle Eastern country.
“While the Iraqi authorities have shown a strong commitment in their provision of humanitarian assistance, they require more support to meet the needs of the ever increasing number of refugees arriving in Iraq,” she added.
Along with representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) – Claire Bourgeois and Marzio Babille, respectively – Ms. Badcock visited refugee camps in the Al’Qaim district, located in the Anbar governorate in western Iraq, this week.
Syria has been wracked by violence, with at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 21 months ago.
The violence has spawned more than 500,000 refugees, either registered or awaiting registration in neighbouring countries and North Africa, while more than 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates. Earlier this week, UNHCR said that the number of refugees is currently climbing by more than 3,000 per day.
According to the latest figures from UNHCR, there are presently over 63,000 Syrian refugees in Iraq. In the last four months, the number of refugees has increased six-fold from the around 10,000 Syrian refugees who were registered in Iraq at the end of July.
The United Nations seeks $83 million to scale up its humanitarian response to the increasing number of Syrian refugees in Iraq for the time-period of January to June next year. The funds will provide basic water and sanitation, health, education, shelter, and protection assistance to refugees in Al’Qaim camp, as well as the Domiz refugee camp, located in the Dohuk governorate.
“With the situation in Syria not showing any signs of abating, the current flow of refugees into Iraq is likely to continue, and could even further increase,” said Ms. Bourgeois. “To accommodate them, existing camps need to be expanded and completed without further delay, such as the third camp in Al’Qaim, and persons fleeing violence should be allowed to seek protection in them.”
The UN officials also noted that with the onset of falling temperatures during the winter months – which frequently fall to below 10 degrees Celsius across Iraq – new challenges for all refugees exist.
“Acute respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, are of particular concern to children during the winter months," said UNICEF’s Mr. Babille. “We must make sure that every child and family is provided with warm clothes, blankets and heating as well as the required medical treatment to prevent and treat preventable diseases, thus ensuring children remain healthy during the cold season.”
Separately, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, is due to leave Geneva for Beirut today, where he will join the European Union’s Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva, on a two-day mission to Lebanon and Jordan.
The duo’s activities include a visit to programmes for refugees and host families in the two countries, which together have now received more than 300,000 registered Syrian refugees, with 155,873 in Lebanon and 144,426 in Jordan. It will be Mr. Guterres’ second mission to the region in three months.
Also today, the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) warned that Syrians are at risk of being killed and maimed as a result of explosive remnants of war (ERW) left behind in the wake of the conflict in Syria.
According to UNMAS – which coordinates and delivers clearance of landmines and other explosive remnants of war left behind after the cessation of armed conflict – the intensity and length of the conflict in Syria has involved the use of a broad range of weapons which will result in a devastating level of deadly explosives littering residential areas in cities and towns throughout the country long after the conflict ceases.
“From our work around the world, we know only too well that the long-term impact of ERW will hit children and the most vulnerable in society the hardest,” said UNMAS’ director, Agnès Marcaillou. “In the case of Syria, refugees and internally displaced people returning to homes damaged by fighting are at particularly high-risk of being killed or injured by left-behind explosives obscured by debris.”
She added, “In some countries, such as Afghanistan and Laos, people have long confronted the dangers of ERW, but for most Syrians this will be a new danger and so the need for risk awareness is crucial.”
The UN agency is urgently seeking funding to deliver risk awareness on these dangers to Syrian refugees and internally displaced people as well as funding to pre-position ERW clearance teams and equipment to enable rapid deployment when the situation allows.
These projects are included in the Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan 2013, due to be launched in Geneva on 19 December.