US-Iran conflict restricting aid work in Iraq – Oxfam

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Oxfam volunteers in Tal Abta in Iraq help to unload humanitarian aid for the winter including blankets, heaters and lamps (Tegid Cartwright/Oxfam)

Oxfam has restricted its humanitarian work in Iraq due to heightened security concerns, checkpoints and travel difficulties, following Iranian missile attacks on US military bases in Iraq overnight in retaliation for the US killing of the Iranian General Suleimani.

Oxfam’s Country Director in Iraq, Andres Gonzalez Rodriguez, said: “We have had to suspend work in three locations where we were delivering cash aid to people in need of help. If we have to continue the suspension for a few weeks more, 100,000 of the most vulnerable people will be affected.

“Oxfam is one of the few international agencies working in hard-to-reach areas affected by the latest conflict. As far as possible, we will try to keep our humanitarian work going with our partners around the country. However, we have had to relocate some staff and we are keeping all our staff, partners and work under close observation due to the heightened security concerns.”

Oxfam works in five governorates in Iraq, specialising in water and sanitation, emergency food, cash and gender programs and protection work. Oxfam and its partners reach over a million people in Iraq with this aid. Oxfam has closed its offices, including in Irbil, and asked staff to work from home and avoid travelling.

Gonzalez Rodriguez added: “The Oxfam office in Irbil is just three kilometres away from where the missile hit the airport. Staff heard the rockets overhead and some saw the impact. Staff in our Ramadi office saw the missile passing over Ramadi city before it hit the Ain al-Asad military base.”

“All parties to this conflict are obliged to work hard to de-escalate the crisis and to build peace in order to spare the Middle East region further humanitarian suffering. People who have already suffered decades of war and deprivation will bear the brunt of further conflict and cannot endure another blow. The impacts of another regional conflict on tens of millions of civilians in the Middle East and beyond will be catastrophic and push an over-burdened humanitarian system to breaking point.”

Over 18 million people have already been forced from their homes due to violence and persecution in the Middle East and North Africa – over a quarter of all the displaced people in the world.  Iran hosts nearly a million refugees from Afghanistan – a war which began nearly two decades ago and shows little sign of abating.

Noah Gottschalk, Humanitarian Policy Lead for Oxfam America, said: “We urge the US, Iran and all parties across the region to show restraint, to respect humanitarian law and allow unfettered humanitarian access to those in need, regardless of perceived affiliations. Now is the time for cooler heads to prevail and the work of de-escalation to begin.

“International law imposes a clear obligation on states to protect the lives and safety of civilians. The international community must speak up boldly in defence of these fundamental principles and remind our leaders that it is their responsibility to prevent further human suffering. We hope that in these tense days, leaders recognise that saving lives is more important than saving face.”

Ends

To arrange an interview with a spokesperson in English or Arabic, please contact:

  • English: Kai Tabacek on ktabacek1@oxfam.org.uk / 07584 265 077
  • Arabic: Komal Adris on knowaz@oxfam.org.uk / +964 (0) 7518517395

Notes to editors:

  • Oxfam supports over a million people living in Iraq, working with 13 local partner organisations to provide cash and income generation support as well as water, sanitation and protection services. We also work with partners on women’s rights, water rehabilitation, protection and advocacy.
  • Oxfam runs 26 programmes across Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, Anbar and Salahaddin governorates.