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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 April 2006, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Iraq unrest forces 65,000 to flee
By Andrew North
BBC News, Baghdad

Iraqi girl at camp for displaced people at Diwaniya south of Baghdad
Thousands are living in camps, while others are moving in with relatives
At least 65,000 Iraqis have fled their homes as a result of sectarian violence and intimidation, according to new figures from the Iraqi government.

And the rate at which Iraqis are being displaced is increasing.

Figures given to the BBC by the Ministry for Displacement and Migration show a doubling in the last two weeks of the number of Iraqis forced to move.

There has been a sharp rise in sectarian violence since the bombing of an important Shia shrine in February.

This triggered the current tensions between the country's majority Shia Muslims and minority Sunni Muslims, and hundreds of people have since been killed.

Intimidation

Reports of people leaving their homes because of violence or intimidation, or simply because they no longer feel safe, are becoming more and more common.

RECENT VIOLENCE
12 April: 25 killed in bombing of Shia mosque
7 April: More than 85 killed in triple suicide attack on Shia mosque
2 April: US military says 1,313 Iraqi civilians died in sectarian violence in March
Discovery of victims of execution-style killings almost daily

Some of the intimidation is being carried out by mobile phone.

People have been receiving threatening text messages and gruesome videos filmed on mobile phone cameras.

In one, a Sunni Iraqi man who entered a mainly Shia neighbourhood of Baghdad is seen being beaten and killed by men in black clothes.

The video was then sent out with the warning that this is what would happen to any other Sunni who came to the area.

Makeshift camps

The Iraqi Ministry for Displacement and Migration told the BBC almost 11,000 families had left their homes - equivalent to about 65,000, based on the average Iraqi family size.

Much of this displacement is taking place in and around Baghdad where the violence has been worst, with many people moving in with relatives or friends.

The Red Crescent is providing food, water, blankets, and kerosene to 5,000 families.

NUMBER OF FAMILIES RECEIVING RED CRESCENT AID BY PROVINCE
Baghdad 2000 families
Najaf 600
Wasit 360
Dhiqar 110
Diwaniya 500
Karbala 170
Basra 110
Anbar 400
Salahuddin 450
"Every day the number is going up," Dr Maazen Saloom, a senior official with the Iraqi Red Crescent, told the BBC. "We are trying to get more funds to help these people."

Some displaced people are living in makeshift camps, others are living with relatives or friends, or have moved into ruined buildings or other structures.

Some displaced Iraqis, the Red Crescent says, are hesitant to move to camps, concerned that the camps will become the target of attacks.

Hundreds of Sunnis from the overwhelmingly Shia south, have been heading north - many going to Sunni areas in and around Falluja, west of Baghdad.

The United Nations still has only a limited presence inside Iraq but officials in neighbouring Jordan say they are trying to secure emergency funds because of expectations this internal refugee problem will grow.

The UN-affiliated International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has also been watching the situation closely.

Its latest figures are lower that the Iraqi government's, with reports that about 6,500 families or about 40,000 individuals have fled their homes since the attack on the Samarra shrine.

But the IOM does not dispute the Iraqi government figures. It says the IOM reports do not include estimates for the numbers sheltering with family or friends.




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