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Aid for Iraq: UN Humanitarian Briefing, 23 Mar 2003

News and Press Release
Originally published
Transcript of the UN humanitarian briefing in Amman, Jordan
Nejib Friji, spokesman

The expert group of the sanctions committee of the Security Council (Committee 661) met the whole day yesterday with the aim of preparing a draft resolution on the readjustment of the oil for food program in order to continue providing the emergency humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people during and after the war.

David Wimhurst, spokesperson for UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq

In Baghdad, the International Committee of the Red Cross reports that it has seen about 100 injured in a local hospital. The already very vulnerable Iraqi population is now facing the grim prospect of growing casualties as hostilities intensify. The United Nations continues to urge all the parties to this conflict to do their utmost to protect the lives of the civilian population.

The Halabja area in Sulaymaniyah, near the Iranian border, has been affected by the conflict. Following a shower of missiles yesterday, families have been fleeing the area, heading for Soran, which is about 60 km from the frontier, where they have taken refuge in 11 local schools. We estimate the total number of internally displaced persons to be about 1,300.

The 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. This situation is of concern, since people who are denied access to safer areas will be at high risk.

Khaled Mansour, Spokesman for the World Food Programme (WFP)

In Kuwait an emergency airlift continued with a second plane carrying 40 tons of High Energy Biscuits arriving there last night. Now we have 80 tons stored in Kuwait for potential refugees or to take them inside Iraq when the need arises.

This plane is rotating from our warehouse in Brindisi. The initial target is to have 160 tons of HEB in Kuwait soon. This food is enough for 100,000 people for two weeks.

WFP national staff report that the security situation is slowly returning to normal in Erbil and some of those people who had left are returning home.

WFP offices in Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah have confirmed that all WFP staff, offices and warehouses in these three cities are safe and intact.

Peter Kessler,Spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Fourteen Iraqi refugees arrived in Syria today at the Al Yarubiyah crossing point, northwest of Mosul. They have been taken to our camp at El Hol. On Saturday, our representative in Syria 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 will begin this week. Due to recent military activity around Mosul and Kirkuk, it was important to get the agreement to open the Al Yarubiyah camp so that we would be in position to help any Iraqis leaving the north. Al Yarubiyah is about 100 kilometres from UNHCR's long-time refugee camp at El Hol. El Hol camp, which was first erected in 1991,still shelters three Iraqi families who arrived 12 years ago and who never repatriated. The camp has been enlarged in recent days with additional water and sanitation facilities, and we've erected 340 tents. So far, we have stocked supplies of tents, plastic tarpaulins, blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets, stoves, lanterns and other items at El Hol for up to 5,000 people. Additional aid supplies are available at our regional warehouses in Jordan and Turkey. WFP has food aid available. Along Syria's border with Iraq, we now have two mobile teams visiting border crossings. In addition to our staff at Al Yarubiyah, we've had a second team monitoring the Al Tanf crossing since Saturday. Some 30 Third Country Nationals (TCNs) from Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen have crossed at the central Abu Kamal border in recent days. In Turkey, UNHCR now has three mobile teams operating in the southeast, with two covering the western sector around Silopi, which remains calm. Our third mobile team covering Turkey's eastern border with Iraq plans to visit Cukurca on Monday. Cukurca is Turkey's second main entry point from Iraq, and saw many refugee arrivals during the exodus 12 years ago. Despite reports of population displacement in the north of Iraq, no Iraqis have approached that frontier - people seem to be sticking close to their communities. Today, UNHCR sent an eight-truck convoy from our regional warehouse at Iskenderun, Turkey, to the Turkish Red Crescent warehouse in Silopi. Carrying mattresses, these trucks are expected to reach Silopi on Monday. Iskenderun is one of our three main regional stockpiles - the others are at Aqaba, Jordan, and Ahwaz, Iran. In Turkey, we have more than 60,000 blankets, 9,000 tents, 18,000 kitchen sets, 44,000 jerry cans, 58,000 mattresses, 15,000 stoves, 10,300 plastic rolls, 17,000 lanterns, and 11 pre-fabricated warehouses. These supplies can be shifted to Syria, as well as remain available for needs along Turkey's frontier.The situation at Jordan's Al Karama border remains quiet. Our staff continually check the frontier, chasing-up rumors of new population movements. Late last evening, 25 Somalis studying at the universities of Mosul and Baghdad were allowed into Jordan and are currently sheltered at IOM's TCN camp. Twenty-four individuals (two families and two single men) are waiting for their cases to be resolved at the holding center on the Jordanian frontier. Ten Jordanian Red Crescent tents are at the border site, and we've delivered ten additional tents, as well as food, blankets and stoves. UNHCR legal officers are working with the Jordanian authorities to resolve their status.

UNHCR's staff in Iran, are continually reviewing the situation along the border in order to respond to any developments that may arise. So far, everything along Iraq's eastern border is quiet.

Fadela Chaib, Spokeswoman for the World Health Organization (WHO)

The World Health Organization representative who is temporarily relocated in Jordan during the current conflict managed to talk to some of WHO national staff in Baghdad and the northern governorates in Erbil., Suleymenia and Dohuk. The WHO staff and offices are safe as of this morning according to our people.

The WHO offices are open and ready to provide any technical or logistical assistance to reduce the suffering of the civilian population. Two days ago, the ministry of health asked the WHO office in Baghdad to provide six WHO national pharmacists to help them manage the essential and emergency drugs departments.

Weeks ago, WHO assisted the Ministry of Health to train Emergency Mobile teams on how to manage complex emergency situations; control outbreak of disease and conduct rapid health assessment.

As I previously said, 15 Emergency Health Kits are already in place in Baghdad and others are stored in the three northern governorates. WHO with its partners have also pre-positioned medicines and other health supplies in neighbouring countries to be used inside or outside Iraq when need arises.

Chris Lom, Spokesman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

A group of 28 Moroccans fleeing Iraq left Damascus for Casablanca this morning with IOM aboard a Syrian Airways flight.

The group, which included 14 children and infants, arrived at the Moroccan embassy in Damascus on March 19th. It was the first indication that significant numbers of third country nationals (TCNs) fleeing Iraq are now entering Syria.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that a large number of Yemenis who entered Syria through Yarubiya may now be stranded in the town of Hassake.

IOM Damascus today deployed operations staff to Hassake, and to Tanf, Abu Kamal and Yarubiya on the Iraqi border. Each location will be equipped with transit areas to receive TCNs and refugees or asylum seekers who cross the border from Iraq.

Subsequently IOM will move them to the 12,000-capacity El Hol refugee camp, where TCNs will be supported by IOM and the IFRC in a separate part of the camp.

In the camp, IOM doctors will screen TCNs to ensure that they are fit for onward travel to their home countries. IOM will arrange their flights home from Damascus as quickly as possible.

In Damascus, UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, has agreed to house TCNs departing with IOM in the UNWRA compound. Several of the Moroccan families stayed in the facility. Four more Moroccans and one Eritrean are scheduled to fly home with IOM within the next two days.

A second group of some 150 Sudanese left the Ruweished transit camp in Jordan near the Iraqi border this afternoon aboard a fleet of IOM buses.

They are scheduled to fly out of Amman to Khartoum on an IOM-chartered Royal Jordanian Airways A-310 aircraft at 11.00 pm local time this evening. Amman to Khartoum is a three-hour flight.

They include a number of Sudanese who initially refused to leave the camp on the grounds that they feared persecution if they returned home. The group yesterday met with Sudanese embassy officials, and in return for assurances for their safety, agreed to leave.

IOM medical staff screened the group before departure to ensure that they were fit to travel.

The departure of the Sudanese and 11 Egyptians scheduled to leave for Aqaba by bus this evening will bring the camp population down to less than 100. As of 3.00 pm today there have been no new arrivals today and the border is reported to be quiet.

Last night's arrivals included eight South African "human shields", who will be collected from the camp by South African embassy officials later today. Other nationalities still represented in the camp include Sudanese, Malians, Eritreans and Djiboutians.

The Ruweished camp, which is located in the desert 50kms from the Iraqi border and 350 km from Amman, is run by the Jordanian Red Crescent and IOM, and is reserved for third country nationals (TCNs) transiting Jordan.

Geoffrey Keele, Spokesman for UN Children's Fund (UNICEF)

The operation to access the most vulnerable children in Baghdad and surrounding areas continued with the delivery of food and blankets to the Hanan child care institution at Kerbala to the south west of Baghdad. UNICEF national staff, at the request of care-givers, also gave supplies to a centre for the elderly in the same town.

Over the last three days UNICEF has managed to provide essential supplies to institutions caring for up to 900 disadvantaged children and other vulnerable people.

One of the UNICEF team told us today that caregivers at the children's institutions were giving 24-hour care, but that you could see the fear in the faces of the children. At the moment these centres are assessed as being clean and well organised. But the team says it is difficult to say how much longer these centres can manage to maintain adequate child-care standards given the present circumstances.

Twenty-six thousand water purification tablets have been given to the Baghdad city water authority.

Also, in addition to the oil delivered by UNICEF to backup generators for the city's water treatment and distribution system, which I reported yesterday, a further 11,500 litres of petrol has been delivered to these facilities. This effort is intended to help maintain clean water in the event of a total failure of the city's electricity supply.

Information on UNICEF's response on Iraq can be found at

This site contains press releases, fact sheets, photos, video clips, and in-depth reports on the humanitarian situation in Iraq.

Q & A's

Q: Rana Sabbagh: I would like to know if UNHCR has any agreements with Iraq's neighbors on possible Iraqi army deserters?

A: We have only received 14 refugees in the region. As for the issue of deserters whether can be treated as refugees, we will have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

Q: Adrian Maceter, Newsweek: Commenting on the ongoing skirmishes on Um Qaser today, US military sources said today that one of their goal is to secure the port for access for Humanitarian organizations. Do you have plans to use that port when & if it is secured & if so how will that be coordinate?

A: Umm Qaser port use to be the port for 60% of the humanitarian supplies under the oil for food program. We have a logistics plan to bring supplies into Iraq using four to five corridors; Jordan, for example will be a key corridor to bring humanitarian supplies into Iraq. Now to bring supplies into Um Qaser, I think it's too early to make a judgment because that will depend on the trucking industry inside the country. It is easier to bring a ship to Aqaba then move food or other humanitarian supplies from trucks to Iraq if needed for the time being; that will depend on the trucking industry inside the country, the ability of staff & workers in the port to handle, say, a 50,000 tones ship & depends on the safety to operate in that port. I think if we have an extra corridor to approach Iraq is good, but the corridors we have now could be enough as well.

Q (In Arabic): Sami Nahass, Arab AL Yawm Newspaper & Al Sharq Al Awsat: The Iraqi Vice President mentioned today the UN's silence on the ongoing situation & its approval on the war on Iraq. What is the UN's stand on the war? Another question is, the UN commissioner to the UN mentioned a 10-billion dollar medicine & food shipment & we do not know where this shipment is.

A: The UN has not silenced itself on the war, the Secretary General has took many procedures in accordance to the situation & I wish all will return to the documents & reports we have. What we have about the Iraqi claims that the Secretary General will freeze Iraqi assets, the Secretary General does not have the authority to do so; this is in the hands of the Security Council. As for the second part of the question, we have no information on such shipments but we will inform about it & will answer you in accordance.

David Whimhurst: You referred to an amount of 10 billion dollars; you are talking about the amount of food & other essential supplies that is currently in the oil for food pipeline. As you know the oil for food program inside Iraq is now suspended but there are 10 billion dollars worth in warehouse or on ships to Iraq, with contracts that have been approved. One of the reasons the Security Council has met yesterday & again meeting today is to discuss this further, is to readjust the oil for food mandate so that among other things that amount of food & other supplies can in some way be released & to give the Secretary General greater flexibility in using these resources to alleviate any humanitarian suffering and provide for the needs of the people in Iraq. The Security Council is discussing this.

Najib Freji: One last comment, this would be implemented after the Security Council approves this program & we do not know when that would be.

Q: Hyndai Mushunus, Tokyo: Mr. Kahled from UNICEF, is it only today the UNICEF emergency team reached Kerbela south west of Baghdad; if so how many children & how many elderly people have received blankets & other aids?

A: We reached the first institution late yesterday; today there is another visit made. One of the institutions is for the elderly & I do not have a total of the figure on the number of people staying in that institution, I will try & find that out & get back to you. As far as the children go, the four institutions inside Baghdad & the other in Kerbela, we estimate as close as to 900 children staying there & these are children with severe disabilities & abandoned in the past & orphans; they have no coping mechanisms of their own & no families to count on & we try & make sure they have the things they need to get through this conflict.

Q: How do you deal with the individual cases of refugees that are here in Jordan & that do not want to return to their homelands; people that have been in Iraq for many years & do not feel safe to return or whatever reason that might be, for example, the Somali people on the border?

A: Right now there are no refugees here & our camps are empty, there are some individuals at IOM and Red Crescent camps for third country nationals who have raised some questions about going home; we have looked at their asylum claims, right now it doesn't seem that the individuals have, at least some of the cases that we have seen, that they have a claim for asylum & we will discuss together what they can do with the Jordanian authorities & the IOM. Indeed every individual has the right to seek asylum, they have to have that claim examined & if it found to be a well-founded claim they will be under the protection of the UN.

Q: Collin Nicholson, Boston Globe: Could you clarify on the four planned corridors for assistance, does one of them include the road from Jordan to Baghdad? & if so do you have any information whether that is open now?

A: The plan includes various corridors, thorough Jordan, Syria, Turkey & probably other corridors;

Q: Charlie Hanley, AP: You mentioned 100 injured in hospitals in Baghdad, do you anticipate getting any reports from other locations & is this a regular report that you can provide?

A: Our source of information on this is the International Committee of the Red Cross, who are currently in Iraq & Baghdad. We receive reports on regular basis & as we receive any new figures we will update you & they will do that independently.

Q: John Shur, Korea Times: I have covered the war in Afghanistan & at the time there was this massive flow of people to the border; why is that not happening in this case, is a factor of Iraqi government or is the Jordanian government trying to stop this flow?

A: The situation in Afghanistan is very different; it was & is one of the poorest countries in the world with massive numbers of displaced people. In late Sept. 2001 when rumors of possible attacks began to spread, beginning on the 12th of Sept 2001 there was a massive amount of displacement inside Afghanistan, mostly out of urban areas & inside the countryside. The eventual movement of the refugees was about 250,000 people who arrived quietly across frontiers. Iraq is a very different country, one of the most developed cultures in the world but of course one of the most developed countries in this region up until wars of the 1980's. Nevertheless, as in1991 people are staying at home despite their needs & extreme poverty, because getting to borders is difficult & costly.

Q: I was wondering if we can have more details on the issue of the injured, how many are civilians, how many are military & if it is possible to get any figures of the dead people as well?

A: We don't know, we have no information on how many are civilians or military & I have no hard numbers on fatalities at this point.

Q (In Arabic): Sharq Al Awsat: What is the UN stand on the killing of children in Iraq, especially that we have heard no comments about the cruelties that were viewed on Al Jazeera TV last night of a child that had his head shattered & UNICEF did not yet condemn the killings. I personally know that an NGO is creating a poster of this image to mirror the crimes of the US against Iraq.

A: As you know, the Secretary General has called for all sides to respect all International Agreements & Laws considering humanitarian issues.

Jeff Keeley: I just like to state that UNICEF absolutely deplores any kind of violence. We have stated repeatedly that children are the most vulnerable during conflict & it leaves emotional, mental & sometimes physical scares. We are extremely concerned about the children inside Iraq & the stress & emotional impact this could be having on them. I would like to repeat what Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of UNICEF, said at the outbreak of these hostilities. She said that UNICEF urges all parties to this conflict to make the safety of children a priority. UNICEF is doing all in their power to protect children's health, well being & their lives. We sincerely hope the parties of this conflict will heed these urges.

Q: Given the fact that children are among the casualties, do you believe that the combatants are doing enough to protect children.

A: In any conflict situation there are civilian casualties, it happens to adults & children. Children have the biggest impact on us because children have no choice in these matters & they play no role in the decisions that affect them when it comes to a war. It is our job make sure that they are not affected by these conflicts, particularly injured, killed, removed from their home, removed from their families; these are all impacts that a conflict can have on them. Right now in the country the schools are closed, children not only are being denied many of their other rights as a result to the previous wars & sanctions, but also now aren't being given the right for an education, an education is what is so crucial at times trauma & conflict to help children to get over these crisis. So we have a lot of concerns about is going on inside the country as far as the parties of this conflict heeding what we have said, I don't know, we haven't had the chance to sit down & discuss this with them. What we hope that they do listen to what we said & do understand their obligations towards humanitarian law & conventions to safe guard children in these conflicts.