Exodus continues from Syria, including some 10,000 Iraqis

News Stories, 24 July 2012

© UNHCR/D.Khamissy
Outreach worker registering a displaced Syrian family in Lebanon.

GENEVA, July 24 (UNHCR) More than 10,000 Iraqis have returned home from Syria over the past week to escape the violence that is also causing thousands of Syrians to seek safety in safer districts or in neighbouring countries.

Many of the Iraqi returnees have said they are worried about going back to the country they fled, but felt they had little choice, given the worsening security situation in Syria.

UNHCR has increased the numbers of staff manning hotlines in Syria and they have been kept very busy. "We have heard [from callers] that refugees are running short of food and basic needs, including cooking gas. There is a need for medical care with many clinics closed," UNHCR's chief spokesperson told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday. "Many refugees report continued fear for their safety, particularly the women and children."

Aside from those who have returned home, thousands of other Iraqi refugees have had to relocate from the Damascus suburb of Seida Zeinab to other areas. Some cited direct threats to their safety, while others expressed a fear of being caught up in the violence.

The Iraqi government is supporting the return of Iraqi refugees with special flights. In addition, UNHCR is working with its regular transport company to increase return capacity for Iraqi refugees. More than 13,000 Iraqis left Syria in the first half of 2012, the majority returning to Iraq.

For the remaining refugee population, UNHCR is offering financial assistance so families can stockpile essential items in case access to services and shops is interrupted.

UNHCR's Fleming said that thousands of Syrians in the capital, Damascus, have also fled their homes for safer areas, with 58 schools now hosting Syrian families, as well as a number of parks becoming makeshift camps. "Some of these people are displaced for a second time, having fled Homs governorate for Damascus several months ago," she said.

The refugee agency's national partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has helped to deliver thousands of blankets, mattresses and essential household items to these areas in the past few days.

Meanwhile, Fleming said that UNHCR welcomed the announcement by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki that Syrians fleeing the violence will be allowed free access into Iraq. More than 7,500 Syrians are registered in Iraq, with around 500 awaiting registration. The majority are living in the Kurdistan region.

The Lebanese government also maintains open borders for Syrian refugees and UNHCR estimates that 18,000 crossed last Wednesday and Thursday, but the numbers decreased over the weekend.

Monday witnessed another increase of approximately 6,000 new arrivals through the Masna border crossing. Many told UNHCR that they expected to stay in Lebanon for several weeks and return when calm returns to Damascus or the town of Homs.

To date UNHCR has registered some 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, with 2,500 awaiting registration. It is unlikely that all of the new arrivals will register with UNHCR immediately. In general, those that need assistance are the first to come forward to be registered. Based on preliminary assessments, relatively few of the most recent arrivals are in need of humanitarian assistance at this stage.

In Jordan, close to 36,000 Syrian refugees are registered, with a further 2,500 awaiting registration. According to the authorities, there are tens of thousands of Syrians who have not yet come forward for registration.

On Monday, transit facilities designed for around 2,000 people were packed with 6,000 people. Overnight, more than 1,200 Syrians crossed into Jordan, mostly from Daraa. Thousands are due to be moved to a new camp at Za'atri.

In Turkey, the number of Syrian refugees now stands at more than 44,000. The Turkish authorities are constructing two new camps to increase the capacity of the camps by a minimum of 20,000 people. Significant numbers of Syrian Turkmen have arrived in the past week.

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2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

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