(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Border monitoring teams face difficulties

[Turkey] A UNHCR monitoring team in Turkey.
Metin Corabatir

As of Friday, monitoring teams from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), continue to face difficulties on and along Turkey's 331-km border with Iraq. The teams are trying to assess the needs of vulnerable people on the move on or near the border.

"We continue to face problems on the issue of access," Metin Corabatir, a UNHCR spokesman, told IRIN in the southeastern Turkish border town of Silopi, "not only due to weather conditions but also due to local authorities restricting our movements in some cases."

Earlier this week, the agency reported that two of their teams were facing serious difficulties in the remote and mountainous far southeast of the country as a result of poor road conditions and weather. One of them, which was intending to head south from Hakkari to the border town of Cukurca, had to abandon the attempt following information that the road between the two towns had been blocked by 25 separate avalanches and landslides, making travel impossible.

Cukurca, 200 km east of Silopi, 15 km north of the border with Iraq, was one of the main arrival points for refugees during the 1991 Iraq crisis, when some 450,000 Iraqi Kurds fled towards the Turkish border.

The third monitoring team, operating out of the agency's southeastern Turkish base in Silopi, continues to encounter problems receiving the necessary clearances from the authorities, and has effectively had no access to the areas west of Silopi for over a week.

UNHCR has established four mobile monitoring teams, three of them now in the field in the southeast, and the fourth on standby in the Turkish capital, Ankara. Each team comprises four staff members, including one international staff member. At least one member of each team can speak one of the local languages of either Kurdish or Arabic.

"The purpose of these teams is to ensure that the rights of refugees are respected, and one of these rights is the right to seek asylum," Corabatir said.

Whereas initially the teams had experienced little difficulty in fulfilling that mandate, Corabatir noted that over the past two weeks, given border sensitivities, it had become increasingly difficult, noting that in a number of instances, local authorities had requested the teams to leave. "We are working with the authorities to clarify the situation," he said.

Asked how the monitoring process was proceeding in other countries bordering Iraq, the UN official described the facilitation in Iran and Syria as "good". "There have been a number of reports of population movements in Iraq near the Iranian border, and our teams were given the necessary access to verify the situation," he said.

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