Syria and Jordan still wait for help despite pledges made at Iraq meeting

News Stories, 6 July 2007

© UNHCR/R.Awabdeh
Iraqis line up to register at a UNHCR centre in Syria. More than 12,000 of the over 57,000 Iraqis registered by the agency in Syria since the beginning of this year were victims of torture.

GENEVA, July 6 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency made a fresh call Friday on donors to help countries hosting hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and said Syria and Jordan were still waiting for help despite expressions of support made during a major international conference on Iraq in April.

"It is unconscionable that generous host countries be left on their own to deal with such a huge crisis. We strongly urge governments to step forward now to support them in dealing with this situation and renew our call for international solidarity and burden-sharing," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Friday.

Main host countries Syria and Jordan, with an estimated 2 million Iraqi refugees between them, are struggling to cope. Syria continues to receive about 2,000 Iraqis a day, and about 30,000 a month end up staying.

"The growing refugee population and the communities that host them are facing enormous hardships that will only get worse if the international community doesn't put its money where its mouth is," Redmond said.

At April's UNHCR-organized conference, the UN refugee agency told the more than 400 delegates from governments and international and non-governmental organizations that its US$60 million programme for Iraqi refugees and displaced was just a drop in the ocean compared to the huge needs in the region.

While contributions to UNHCR have been generous, now totalling some $70 million with another $10 million pledged or in the pipeline, the organization has said it cannot do everything alone.

"We stressed then and we say it again donors must provide direct bilateral support to these host countries whose schools, hospitals, public services and infrastructure are seriously overstretched because of the presence of millions of Iraqis they have so generously welcomed," Redmond said.

In Syria, for example, only 32,000 of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugee children in the country are actually in school. Syria, with 1.4 million Iraqis, is the only country in the region that allows free public school access for all Iraqi children. But there is not enough space to take them all in.

To try to cope, Syrian education officials have been forced to convert scores of public schools back to the double-shift system, which the country had planned to end by 2010. A whole generation of Iraqi children is in danger of missing out on an education.

UNHCR is working with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to have at least 150,000 Iraqi children in school in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon by the end of this year. But the task of providing more classrooms, teachers, educational materials and other support must be done in coordination with the Syrian education ministry and it is not getting the help it needs.

The health infrastructure is also under severe strain and thousands of Iraqis are suffering because they cannot get proper help. "Every week, we're seeing sick and maimed Iraqis including many burn and trauma victims arriving in Syria in search of medical help," Redmond said, adding that UNHCR had set up three primary care medical posts and was building two more.

"But it's not enough. We're currently referring 10,000 Iraqis a month to Syrian doctors and health care facilities, including 3,000 to hospitals. About 15 percent of those 3,000 are in urgent need of serious medical help," he added.

In the last month alone, UNHCR has provided prostheses to 50 Iraqi children. Meanwhile, more than 12,000 of the more than 57,000 Iraqis registered by the agency in Syria since the beginning of this year were victims of torture. "You can imagine the needs," Redmond noted.

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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

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The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

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