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Iraqi refugees in Syria: A report of the ICMC-USCCB mission to assess the protection needs of Iraqi refugees in Syria

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Executive Summary

This protection assessment mission to Syria is a joint effort of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB-MRS). The mission was funded by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM). The main objective of the mission was to provide an in-depth evaluation and analysis of the protection needs of vulnerable Iraqi individuals and families residing in Syria, to assess the existing system of response to these needs, and to make recommendations of the best approaches to address their protection needs.

Brief summary of the present situation of Iraqi refugees in Syria:

- In February 2008 this mission found the Iraqi population in Syria to be living a fragile, isolated existence with limited services and depleting resources.

- Most of the Iraqi refugees in Syria have experienced extremely distressing events in the last few years and appear to be struggling to manage the effects of these events.

- To this date UNHCR in Syria has registered 161,613 Iraqi Refugees.

- Estimates of the total number of Iraqi refugees in Syria are disputed and vary from 300,000 - 1.5 million with the vast majority residing in Greater Damascus.

- Regardless of numbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that there are not enough funds and services to address the assistance needs of Iraqi refugees in Syria.

- The Syrian Government has good relationships with United Nations agencies and societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. International non-Government organizations are presently not operational in Syria.

- Recognizing the need for a joint effort in response to the Iraqi refugee situation, the Syrian government has currently given approval to 14 international non- Government organizations to work with the Iraqi refugees. They are in the process of being registered so as to become operational.

- Due to the lengthy process of registration of international non-Government organizations UNHCR has very few implementing partners and those that it has are stretched in capacity.4 In many instances UNHCR is implementing its own programs.

- The Iraqi refugee population that has registered with UNHCR has access to basic services such as essential non-food items, health clinics and food. Iraqi children can attend Syrian schools.

- The unregistered Iraqis have limited access to the same basic services, mostly through local Church organizations.

- There are insufficient resettlement places for those Iraqi who cannot return to Iraq.

- Iraqis arriving in Syria are now required to have a visa issued from the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad. Many, who arrived earlier, are now residing in Syria with lapsed visas and some are fearful of deportation.

- In February 2008 the President of Syria gave assurances to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that Syria was not going to deport Iraqi refugees.

In the light of the above situation the ICMC & USCBB/MRS has identified the following overarching protection needs and gaps for the Iraqi refugee population in Syriain February 2008.