U.N.: storms add to hardships for Iraqi refugees in Kurdish areas

Refugee aid teams repair tents damaged by sandstorms in an Iraqi camp (UNHCR)

Baghdad ( Sandstorms are adding to the difficulties for Iraqi refugees sheltered at camps in Kurdish areas, the United Nations reported on Monday.

Displaced Iraqis staying in camps have been affected by heavy dust and sandstorms that hit major areas of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq from Saturday evening,” said a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Dozens of youngsters in several camps needed medical assistance after reporting breathing problems,” it added.

According to the report, officials in one UNHCR-run camp, Al Salamiyah 1,south of Mosul, said “around 47 tents were badly damaged and had to be removed. Around half of the damaged tents were empty at the time. Tents that were occupied have been repaired”.

The report counted 50 people from the eastern camps who were hospitalized for respiratory difficulties caused by the sandstorms. “One 53 year old man, who suffered from severe asthma and had received medical treatment the week earlier, later died,” according to the report.

Earlier this month, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande, said “More than 5.4 million civilians have been displaced in Iraq since 2014.”

Iraqi authorities had unveiled plans to repatriate all refugees before this year’s end. The government will soon launch an offensive to retake Islamic State’s last holdouts in Iraq at western Anbar. A campaign backed by a U.S.-led coalition and paramilitary troops had managed to retake major group bastions, most notably Mosul, the group’s former capital.

Local and international rights agencies have repeatedly highlighted poor living conditions both  at Islamic State-held areas and at refugee camps. IS militants had regularly executed civilians attempting to flee their havens. Officials have also occasionally pointed out that refugees were reluctant to return home due to the severe damage to infrastructure.


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