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UNHCR Preparedness for a Refugee Influx From Mosul in Iraq to Hassakeh in Syria (October 2016)

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As the Government of Iraq is gearing up for a major military operation to retake Mosul city, UNHCR anticipates an influx of some 90,000 Iraqi refugees arriving through Tel Sefug village, a crossing point mainly used by smugglers, located at the eastern borders of the Hassakeh Governorate. Ongoing military actions, inside Iraq have already caused the displacement of thousands of people fleeing the conflict zones, including over 10,600 Iraqi refugees in Syria since January 2016. The arrival of Iraqi refugees in Syria and the recognition of their prima facie status is due to the open door policy of the Syrian government towards refugees.

The main preparations related to the Influx revolve around the Al Hol camp (Coordinates 36°22'30.24"N - 41° 9'3.71"E), which is located 14 Km from the Syria - Iraq border and 60 Km from the closest ISIS positions. The camp was previously a UNHCR established camp for ex-Iraqi Palestinian refugees during the IraqKuwait war, but later in 2010, it was officially closed as a refugee camp. As the security situation deteriorated throughout the area, in 2011, it was firstly taken over by Jabhat al Nusra (JaN) and then subsequently by ISIS until late 2014 when the YPG took control of the area. The residents of Al-Hol town were allowed to return in May 2016 after the area was cleared of mines by the local administration. The local authorities selected the Al Hol site as a refugee camp because it still had the basic camp infrastructure in place as well as a space to accommodate 20,000 individuals. Moving the camp to another location is not an option as far as the local administration is concerned.

Due to safety related reasons, UNHCR could only have intermittent access to the camp only through its partners and until very recently when UNDSS cleared UN missions to Al Hol. As a result, the first UNHCR mission to Al Hol went on 10th of October 2016. For some Iraqi refugees, Al Hol has been a place of refuge while for many, it has been a transit point, who have been seeking routes to return to Iraq.