UNITED NATIONS - Senior United Nations officials Saturday expressed deep concern about the situation of the estimated one million people displaced so far in Iraq, particularly children, who are reportedly now being recruited and used by militias on all sides.
‘We have received worrisome information that children are taking part in hostilities,’ the Special Representative of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, said in a statement. Her office confirmed that incidents of underage boys being armed, manning checkpoints, and in some cases used as suicide bombers, have been documented.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and affiliated organisations are listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict for recruitment and use of children, killing and maiming of children, and attacks on schools and hospitals in Iraq.
In 2013, three children were killed every other day in attacks, shelling, or in cross-fire, more than double the number of children killed and maimed in 2012. ‘This recent wave of hostilities could inflict an even higher toll with children killed or injured, displaced, or separated from their families,’ Ms. Zerrougui’s office said. In Iraq, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Jacqueline Badcock, said today that the ongoing conflict and the extremely volatile environment is likely to limit humanitarian access to displaced people in areas controlled by armed groups.
‘I remind all parties to the conflict that they must allow unfettered and sustained humanitarian access to all people in need,’ she underscored. Partiers are scaling up humanitarian efforts, with additional staff being mobilized and emergency funding released to more efficiently aid needy families, the humanitarian official noted.
‘Many are staying in the open and urgently need water, food, shelter and latrines,’ Ms. Badcock said in a statement. ‘There are concerns for their protection and reports of an increase in gender-based violence among the displaced.’
An estimated 25,000 people remain in Mosul, she said, while 200,000 have fled into Dohuk governorate and 100,000 people have crossed into Erbil governorate under the Kurdish Regional Government. But forced displacement is estimated at a million people so far this year, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). ‘The humanitarian needs of Iraq’s wider newly displaced population continue to mount,’ UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said in Geneva. ‘Our aid operation is currently focused on the north of the country.’
In Al-Obaidi, near the Syrian border, 1,500 Syrian refugees live in tents with an additional 3,500 living outside the camp. Military clashes last night caused a panic among the refugees, but the situation has calmed this morning, Edwards said. Given the recent insecurity, some refugees are asking to return to Syria, even though large parts of it remain contested. UNHCR is working with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to ensure aid, such as flour to make bread, is available without interruptions.