VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
IRC responding to the turning refugee tide in Iraq
October 3, 2012 by The IRC
|Conditions are poor for Syrian refugees at Domiz camp near Dahuk in Iraq. Photo: Gergey Pasztor/IRC|
By Rachel Unkovic
ERBIL, Iraq - What was a trickle only months ago is becoming a steady flow. During the first seven months of the year, close to 9,000 refugees crossed into Iraq from Syria. However, since early August, more than twice that number of men, women, and children have arrived here, bringing the total number of Syrian refugees in Iraq to almost 30,000.
And that flow may increase sharply with the recent reopening of a border crossing. The Iraqi government had closed the Al Qaem border crossing in August due to fighting on the Syrian side, but opened it again in mid-September.
A half-decade ago, the flood of refugees was heading west, to Syria and Jordan. At its peak in late 2006, more than 3,000 Iraqis fled the country daily. Today, the flow is in the other direction, and the volume is increasing.
What’s doubly tragic here is that at the same time, more than 37,000 of those Iraqi refugees have returned from Syria. Many of these returnees can’t go back to their former homes in central Iraq because of the continued threat of violence. Some who have tried to return have found their houses looted or occupied.
The IRC is responding by mobilizing our experts in legal assistance, child protection, and gender-based violence to provide direct and referral services to refugees and returnees. In the north of Iraq, where more than 8,500 mostly Kurdish refugees are in the Domiz camp, we have provided training in how to ensure refugee safety and security. In central Iraq, we are assisting the United Nations refugee agency with refugee registration, ensuring special attention is paid to children and their access to education as the school year starts. IRC lawyers are providing asylum seekers with free access to representation, improving their awareness of their legal rights. Recognizing the increased risk of sexual assault and other forms of violence against women and girls during conflict-induced displacement, we are recruiting staff to provide crisis counseling to survivors.
As in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, the refugee influx in Iraq shows no sign of abating, and like so many others, we are planning ahead.
Rachel Unkovic is the IRC grants coordinator in Iraq. Her humanitarian work has taken her to posts in Yemen, Senegal, the Gambia and Uganda since 2007.