ERBIL, IRAQ – As the exodus continues of Syrians into the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the leaders of the UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme paid tribute to the government here for giving refuge to almost 200,000 people, including some 47,000 arriving in the last two weeks.
Despite the strain of accommodating such a large number, the regional authorities have opened their border and offered land to accommodate refugees in camps.
Speaking today at the Domiz refugee camp, 70 kilometers from the border with Syria and home to 45,000 refugees, UNHCR chief António Guterres said, “This influx represents a huge strain on the economy and infrastructure here, and having a war next door is always a threat. I express my deep gratitude to the Government and the people of the Kurdistan region who have welcomed so many Syrians in need of protection.”
Also addressing reporters following the visit to the camp, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said, “We are here for the people. We will be here for as long as the Government of the Kurdistan region continues to support us and as long as the people of Syria need us.”
“When we talk about the Syrian conflict, we often forget the victims who are the children, the women and the elderly people. These are the people that bear the price of this conflict,” she added.
The two officials later visited the Kawergost refugee camp near Erbil, an emergency site set up on a dusty plain to receive the thousands of Syrian refugees who suddenly arrived during the last two weeks. Over 1,200 Syrians streamed across the border on Thursday, arriving here for registration.
Cousin and Guterres also met the President of the Kurdistan region Masoud Barzani who offered his commitment to continue welcoming Syrians fleeing to his region. The Governor of Erbil, Mr. Nawzad Hadi, spoke of the need for camps that can be expanded and equipped for growing numbers and changing weather. But he warned that “time is not our friend. We need to prepare for winter.”
The WFP and UNHCR chiefs reiterated their commitment to helping all Syrians in need. Beyond camp management, UNHCR registers refugees, a system that provides identification and also assessment of their individual needs so services can be provided accordingly. UNCHR also coordinates the response of specialized UN and NGO partners.
WFP provides $31 dollars per month for every family member, in the form of food vouchers. “That translates into $10.5 million worth of business to local shops,” Ms. Cousin said. “Through these vouchers, refugees are providing commerce to these communities while also having access to fresh and nutritious food.”
Ms. Cousin noted that support from the international community is essential as needs continue to grow. WFP’s program costs $30 million per week to feed Syrians inside Syria and in neighboring countries.