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UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - Regional Overview: The Middle East

UNHCR Fundraising Reports, 1 December 1998


The scope of UNHCR's activities in the Middle East was limited before the 1991 Gulf crisis. 1991 may thus be seen as a watershed for UNHCR in this region. The Gulf War and its aftermath led to the launching of UNHCR assistance programmes in Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, the Syrian Arab Republic and Saudi Arabia.

The refugees

The refugee situation in the Middle East remains largely unchanged from past years. There are some 147,000 refugees in the region including 104,000 refugees in Iraq, 22,700 in the Syrian Arab Republic, 6,400 in Egypt and some 5,800 in Saudi Arabia. Of these, UNHCR assists some 40,600 Iraqi refugees, 34,200 Iranians, 4,800 Somalis and 1,900 Sudanese in the region. There are also some 2.5 million Palestinian refugees living in the region. Palestinian refugees outside of the UNRWA's (United Nations Relief and Work Agency) area of operation receive legal assistance from UNHCR. UNRWA operates in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic.

Protection and care and maintenance

UNHCR provides protection and care and maintenance to refugees in both urban and camp settings in the Middle East. The agency assists some 15,400 Iranian refugees in Al-Tash Camp in Iraq and some 1,400 Iraqi Refugees in El-Hol Camp in the Syrian Arab Republic. Some 5,500 Iraqi refugees in Rafha Camp in Saudi Arabia receive UNHCR protection assistance, but care and maintenance is provided by the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. UNHCR also provides assistance to some 10,800 refugees of Turkish origin in Iraq. Some 6,800 of these refugees shelter in Makhmour Camp in the Government-controlled region, while another 4,000 persons live in local settlements in the north of Iraq.

Temporary stay pending solution

Because employment possibilities for refugees in the region are severely limited, UNHCR's financial assistance to refugees is seen as a basic requirement for regional Governments to grant temporary stays for refugees pending a durable solution. None of the countries in the Middle East region (except Egypt) has signed the 1951 Convention and all are increasingly burdened by internal economic difficulties which limit their ability to provide for refugee populations.

Local integration is not an option for the overwhelming majority of refugees in the Middle East since most of the countries have not signed the Refugee Convention and have no laws which legalize the status of asylum-seekers and UNHCR-recognized refugees. Third-country resettlement or eventual repatriation are the only durable solutions available for large groups of refugees. During 1997, UNHCR helped resettle some 9,400 refugees from countries in the Middle East. Apart from some individual refugees who repatriated, UNHCR's largest repatriation programme in the Middle East is the voluntary return of Iraqi refugees from the Islamic Republic of Iran to the north of Iraq. During 1997, UNHCR assisted 4,341 Iraqi Kurds who repatriated from the Islamic Republic of Iran to northern Iraq and another 4,000 spontaneous returnees. Returnees were given a shelter package and either livestock or carpentry tools or a farming set; and the World Food Programme (WFP) provided them with a two-month food ration upon their return.

Women and children

UNHCR conducts special activities for women and children in the Middle East. In Egypt, for example, there are projects in culturally and ethically sensitive reproductive health, vocational training and income-generation for refugee women. Guidelines for the protection of refugee women are disseminated among groups dealing with refugee issues and a network for advocating refugee women's rights is gradually building. In Kuwait, UNHCR promotes equal access to education for male and female children. UNHCR meets school costs for refugees in need, and assistance is provided for refugee students at primary, secondary and vocational schools.

Regional consultations

In 1996, UNHCR launched the Consultations on Refugees and Displaced Populations in Central Asia, South-West Asia and the Middle East (known as the CASWAME Consultations). Representatives from the Middle East, Central and South Asia participated in the discussions which led to the adoption of a number of constructive recommendations to deal with displacement issues. The conclusions are implemented as part of UNHCR's objectives in the region.

Budget US$

The budget does not include costs at Headquaters.

CountryGeneral ProgrammesSpecial ProgrammesTotal
Saudi Arabia1,148,2001,148,200
The Syrian Arab Republic2,446,8002,446,800
Regional Projects179,80079,800



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Surviving the Storm

A fierce winter storm swept through the Middle East this week bringing icy temperatures, high winds and heavy snow. In Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, more than 400,000 refugees have been enduring freezing conditions since snow levels not seen in many years arrived. Refugee accommodation in the Bekaa ranges from abandoned buildings to garages, sheds, apartments and informal settlements. Conditions are most difficult in the settlements, with roofing on makeshift shelters liable to collapse under the weight of the snow.

Although a great deal of winter aid has been provided, UNHCR remains concerned. Despite the agency's best efforts, the situation in Lebanon remains precarious for refugees, given the extremely poor conditions in which they live and the scattered nature of the population. It is a constant challenge to ensure that refugees across more than 1,700 localities remain safe and warm during the winter months and have sufficient resources to withstand severe storms.

Photojournalist Andrew McConnell spent two days in the Bekaa Valley, documenting the situation for UNHCR.

Surviving the Storm

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Three days after giving birth to her fourth child, a girl she named Hawler, Peroz concluded that the situation in her hometown of Hassake, Syria, was too dangerous for her children. She decided to make the difficult journey to northern Iraq. Along the way, she and Hawler were sick. "I was terrified the baby might die," said Peroz, 27.

Although the border was closed, guards felt compassion for the newborn child and let Peroz's family enter. A few days later Peroz and her children were reunited with their father and now they are living with hundreds of other refugees in a small park on the outskirts of Erbil.

Battling mosquitoes and soaring daytime temperatures, and with little more than blankets for comfort and a breakfast of bread and cheese for nourishment, Peroz and her husband hope to be transferred to a new tented settlement.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of Syrians have flooded into northern Iraq, fleeing violence. With existing camps at full capacity, many refugee families are finding shelter anywhere they can. The local government has started transferring people from Qushtapa Park to a nearby camp. UNHCR is registering the refugees, as well as providing tents and life-saving assistance.

An Infant's Journey to Safety

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

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