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North-East Syria Update – October 2019 - April 2020

Situation Report
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Update on Response and Achievements

Operational Context and Background

Since the start of military action in north-east Syria (NES) on 9 October 2019, some 21,540 individuals crossed into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I) seeking refuge. Unlike previous influxes of Syrian refugees into the KR-I, authorities allowed newly arrived persons entry to only two designated camps namely Bardarash and Gawilan. All refugees were transported directly from the border area to Bardarash or Gawilan Refugee camps.

Of the total number of arrivals, some 74 per cent of this population (16,038 individuals) registered, while others are believed to have spontaneously returned back to Syria or moved elsewhere to other parts of the KR-I without registering in the Duhok Governorate. The reasons for this appear to be largely attributed to the encampment policy applied to new arrivals which had not previously been applied in the KR-I and the accompanying sponsorship process to depart the camps. In the latter, only families or individuals with sponsors were permitted officially to leave the camp subject to registration with the authorities.

This situation was exacerbated by several other challenges especially during the first few weeks of the influx. They included, inter-alia, the relatively large number of new arrivals (720 individuals daily average or 60 per cent in October alone), pre-registration/clearance procedures by Assayesh and the Board of Humanitarian and Relief Affairs (BRHA), low registration staff capacity and the roll-out of UNHCR’s proGres v4 database which required steady internet bandwidth and connectivity. While registration and connectivity issues were resolved by early November, the government’s policy of encampment and required sponsorship was not. Although basic assistance and primary health care were being provided, refugees were interested to the leave the camp as quickly as possible. Consequently and prior to registration, many new arrivals departed the camps without authorization and moved onwards to other parts of the KR-I while others decided to return to Syria spontaneously.

Bardarash camp was constructed by the Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM) in 2015 for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and semi-decommissioned in December 2017 after the return of IDPs. It was re-opened in October 2019 as a refugee camp to receive over 3,000 Syrian refugee families from NES. In Gawilan Refugee camp, Sector F was newly established in late October to accommodate some 490 families as Bardarash Refugee camp began to reach its capacity.

By January 2020, the average daily arrival rate fell to about 42 individuals. On 2 March, the government announced the closure of all land borders including the Sahela Entry Point as a preventative measure to control the spread of COVID-19, and by doing so curtailed the movement of Syrians across the border into the KR-I.