Jordan + 2 more

Iraq: Oxfam programme update 21 Mar 2003

News and Press Release
Originally published
The start of military attacks on Iraq on 20 March has meant that, although Oxfam believes the war is unjustified and has been working hard to prevent it, we must now refocus our efforts.
We are concentrating on ensuring that:
  • Adequate humanitarian assistance is provided to the citizens of Iraq
  • The rights of civilians are upheld under international humanitarian law
  • The United Nations (UN) play a central role in the provision of aid and the reconstruction of Iraq following war.
Lobbying and Advocacy

The focus of our lobbying and advocacy work is now to ensure that those involved in military action respect international humanitarian law. This requires that warring parties take all necessary precautions to avoid loss of civilian life, by refraining from indiscriminate attacks, preserving the infrastructure upon which the civilian population depends, and allowing free passage of humanitarian relief.

We will also be emphasising the importance of the leadership of the UN rather than the military, in both the humanitarian relief effort, and in establishing a new Iraqi government if the US led coalition is successful. It is essential that there is a space between the activities of the military and those of humanitarian agencies, and that humanitarian relief is seen as impartial and unrelated to the war effort. While military action is taking place we will not be accepting funding from the governments involved, and we will also be lobbying donors to ensure that the UN receives sufficient funds to fully undertake its role in the response.

If there is an occupation, international law obliges occupying forces to ensure the supply of food and other necessities to the citizens of that county. If extreme insecurity limits the ability of civilian agencies to operate in Iraq we will be lobbying to ensure that military forces honour their responsibility to provide aid, until humanitarian agencies are able to work in the country.

We will also lobbying on the rights of refugees. In countries such as Jordan and Syria, limits have been imposed on the amount of time that refugees are allowed to remain, and Syria has now closed its border with Iraq. We will be emphasising the responsibilities of host countries to respect the rights of refugees to both asylum and humanitarian assistance.


The UN are planning for influxes of up to 100,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, up to a million in Iran, and up to 50,000 in Jordan - with the possibility of an additional 60,000 third-country nationals transiting through from other countries. We currently have small teams in Jordan, Syria and Iran who are working closely with governments and UN agencies. At the time of writing there have been no reported major population movements, and it is still unclear where people are likely to move to.

In addition to our field staff positioned in countries bordering Iraq, we have a regional team based in Jordan which will be able to travel to areas within the region where humanitarian needs are greatest. We also have a pool of specialist staff who are able to travel to Iraq at short notice. If conditions allow us to work in Iraq it is likely that these staff will begin by carrying out an assessment of the situation. We are also likely to send out some of the water and sanitation equipment we have ready in our warehouse in Bicester, near Oxford.

We have sent enough water equipment, including water storage tanks, pumps, pipes and latrine slabs, to Syria and Jordan to respond to the needs of 10,000 refugees. We have additional water and sanitation equipment ready to be flown out and, if necessary, will scale up our work to respond to the needs of 20,000 people or more, in both countries.

In Iran we are talking with the UN, government bodies, and other non-government organisations (NGOs) to ensure that any response to influxes of refugees is well coordinated. If necessary, we will be able to scale up to respond to the needs of up to 60,000 refugees in the country, and much more if requested.