Switzerland’s support to UNHCR operations in Iraq

Project completed
A female child with her dad beside a tent of the UNHCR with fruits and vegetables.
Among millions of persons displaced in Iraq, many of them are children. The SDC supports the UNHCR to provide them protection and basic services. © SDC ©

Iraq has been battling with conflict since 2003 and the humanitarian situation has deteriorated since late 2013. The surge in violence between armed groups and government forces has resulted in 3.3 million internally displaced persons across Iraq and has left 10 million in need of humanitarian assistance. The country also hosts more than 250,000 Syrian refugees, who have fled atrocities in their homeland. Beside the provision of Swiss experts, the SDC has allocated for 2016 CHF 1.5 million to UNHCR in Iraq.

Country/region Period Budget
01.01.2016 - 31.12.2016
CHF  1’500’000

In order to relief the suffering of the affected population in Iraq, the SDC supports various humanitarian agencies with financial contributions as well as technical expertise. The UNHCR is one of Switzerland’s main partners in the country. For 2016, Switzerland has earmarked CHF 1.5 million for UNHCR’s response to the crisis. 

Most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees have sought shelter in the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq, where the total population of concern is likely to reach more than 4 million in 2016 according to UNHCR. “One of the biggest problems is the inadequate management of water resources in the region. Water usage is higher than water replenishment,” Claudia Hungerbühler says. She is a technical water expert from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit who has been supporting UNHCR’s work in four refugee and 17 IDP camps in the region since 2013. “This affects also 30,000 Syrian refugees who were resettled in the “Domiz 1” camp where we can only supply an average of 50-60 litres per person per day. Yet refugees often require more water, especially in the very hot summer months.” For comparison, the average Swiss person uses between 150 and 200 litres per day. 

Protective measures

Claudia Hungerbühler’s main task as a water expert is to guarantee adequate water supply, do the site planning, monitor and talk to the camp population to find out what is needed. But she must also consider protection issues. “When setting up female toilets we have to make sure that we don’t locate them in a remote spot; that the doors don’t open towards the road and that it is not hidden away somewhere,” she explains, pointing out that these measures have proven to reduce sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the camps. 

Protection is a priority for the UNHCR in Iraq. This imperative also applies to the sectors of shelter as well as provision of non-food items. “The protection situation is fairly good in the camps, however, we need a better response for persons with disabilities and adolescents, who may face higher protection risks including recruitment by armed groups, child marriage, and child labour”, Jacqueline Parlevliet, UNHCR Senior Protection Advisor in Erbil, in northern Iraq, says. 

Special focus on children 

Most recently UNHCR has rolled out a child marriage campaign, setting out the negative consequences of child marriage on the development and well-being of the child. The poor economic situation and the limited access to quality education lead further to a high drop out of children from schools. There are several reports of increasing instances of child labour, exposing children to high protection risks such as exploitation, trafficking, abuse and violation. 

Through community based centres in the camps, UNHCR offers various services including those to prevent and respond to SGBV. By making these services available in a manner which facilitates discrete access, survivors feel more comfortable to take up these services. “So far, UNHCR has reached more than 1.5 million people with its protection measures”, Jacqueline Parlevliet tells. 

Due to the needs, Switzerland is about to deploy another Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit protection expert to support the UNHCR team in northern Iraq. 

Relief items 

Beside its financial contributions and technical expertise the SDC also provides relief items to the UNHCR in Iraq. Before the winter 2014-2015 for instance, Switzerland sent family tents, heaters, thermal blankets and other aid materials for the millions of IDPs in Northern Iraq who needed protection from harsh winter conditions. Two members of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit organised the reception of the shipment which weighted some 125 tonnes and was eventually transferred to the UNHCR for distribution.