Relief operations to help Syrian refugees continue amidst security challenges

Briefing Notes, 24 August 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 24 August 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The security situation in Lebanon has this week been hampering our work to help refugees fleeing Syria's conflict, although operations are continuing. Clashes between rival neighbourhoods in Tripoli continue, and this has affected the pace of registration from our newly established centre in the city. The registration centre was open until yesterday with reduced staff as about half of them live in areas affected by shooting. Today, however, we've had to close the centre temporarily for security reasons. Fewer Syrians are turning up to register and appointments for those staying in affected areas have been rescheduled. The northern highway has been closed, though distributions of relief and hygiene items are continuing from our Qobboyat field office.

In the Bekaa valley in east Lebanon, registration of refugees is also affected because of security concerns in the wake of kidnappings of Syrians in the area. As a protection measure for the refugees, we are avoiding large gatherings of Syrians at registration and distribution points in some areas though assistance continues in a modified way.

Of particular concern is the disruption to our efforts to identify and rehabilitate alternative shelters for the growing number of Syrians staying in schools which are due to resume next month. We have so far, however, identified eleven abandoned schools suitable to turn into shelters and UNHCR has written to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to request permission to renovate them to house the refugees. UNHCR hopes to relocate 100 families (around 500 people) staying in operational schools in the Bekaa valley with no other options to the renovated shelters in the coming fortnight.

Cash for shelter is being considered as an option for some refugee families. Across Lebanon, UNHCR has been continuing its back to school drive and yesterday met with school directors in Halba Public School in the North to identify places for refugee children

Meanwhile a steady stream of Syrians is entering Lebanon, mainly from Damascus, Aleppo and Dara'a. There are some 51,000 Syrians in Lebanon who have registered or applied to register with UNHCR.


Turkey continues to see the largest refugee influx, with more than 74,000 people officially registered by the government as of 22 August. Newly arriving refugees are being accommodated at boarding schools in seven cities until new camps, currently being constructed, are able to receive them. Some 21 per cent of the refugees in Turkey are staying in boarding schools in Gaziantep, Kilis, Adana, Osmaniye and Kahramanmara, Adiyaman and Malatya. At the same time, smaller numbers of people (868) have returned voluntarily to Syria from Ceylanpinar and Akcakale camps in Turkey.

Local authorities have informed UNHCR that seven new camps are being built which, together with the existing nine camps, will bring Turkey's camp capacity to 130,000 people. Three of the new camps are expected to be ready by the end of August, with the remainder complete by end of September.


Meanwhile in Iraq, Syrian refugees staying in schools are being relocated to Al Qaem camp. Seven schools have so far been vacated with a further nine schools still occupied by some 1,760 refugees. The school year resumes in Iraq in early October. 1,691 people are now residing in the Al Qaem camp, while some 100 Syrians have left the camp and returned to Syria. During the last week, 24 left the camp to live with relatives. UNHCR will shortly begin to expand the camp by 230 tents in anticipation of new arrivals.

The number of Syrians crossing into Iraq has slowed over the past week, although the refugee population increased slightly in the Kurdistan region. Across Iraq the total number of refugees stands at 15,898

The number of Iraqi refugees returning from Syria to Iraq has continued despite fewer people returning over Eid due to a shortage of buses from Damascus. Most of those returning home are heading to Baghdad. Several of those returning told UNHCR protection staff at the border they had been attacked or robbed on the road between Damascus and Al-tanf on the Syrian border, losing all their money, telephones and some documents. Some returnees say they are assessing the security situation in Iraq before deciding to stay.


In Jordan, a record 2,200 people crossed the border last night and were received at Za'atri camp in the north of Jordan. The refugees are from Daraa, Karak, Shebaa, Herak and other villages. This brings the total number of Syrians who have been received in Za'atri camp to more than 14,500. Last night's sharp spike in arrivals represents a 77 per cent increase on the previous overnight record (1,254) on 20-21 August. Further arrivals are expected.

Improvements to the camp continue. Electricity is now installed in 40 per cent of the camp which will allow for further improved services in the future. The first baby was born in Za'atri three days ago, in the Moroccan hospital. This week UNHCR has witnessed the first signs of entrepreneurial activity among refugees in the camp, with one young man setting up a barber business alongside his family's shelter. The man, a barber by trade in Syria, has tapped into the newly installed electricity system.

Across Jordan, some 61,000 people have registered with UNHCR or are awaiting registration. The Jordanian government estimates 150,000 Syrians are in Jordan.


UNHCR operations in Syria continue despite an escalation of military activity in the capital which is restricting staff movements and the ability of refugees to attend the office. Nevertheless, our hotlines continue to operate giving counseling to refugees who enquire about relocation, food distribution, financial assistance, residency issues, registration and resettlement. Relief items like hygiene kits and mattresses are being distributed to displaced people via our partners.


The total number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration as of August, 23 was 202,512. Please note that the rise in numbers reflects both increased arrivals and a change this week in the way UNHCR is counting the numbers of Syrian refugees in Jordan (previously people at the Za'atri camp still awaiting registration were not included in these figures).


Total registered = 61,002 {including 17,040 awaiting registration}

- Some 80,000 have been identified by local organizations as in need of assistance, some of whom have been registered with UNHCR.


Total registered = 51,055 {including 11,861 awaiting registration}

- In addition, many thousands of refugees who have recently arrived into Lebanon did not yet come forward for registration.


Total registered = 15,898 {including 2,042 awaiting registration}

- The total number of Iraqi returnees from Syria has reached 29,453 since July, 18.


Total registered = 74,112 {registered and assisted as per Government statistics}

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Beirut: Ariane Rummery on mobile + 961 71 002 689
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38



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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.

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Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

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