Syria Emergency: Record number of Syrians cross border into Jordan

News Stories, 24 August 2012

© UNHCR/A.McDonnell
More than 14,500 Syrian refugees are now being sheltered at Jordan's Za'atri camp as the number arriving accelerates.

GENEVA, 24 August (UNHCR) A record 2,200 Syrians crossed into Jordan on Thursday night and were taken to the Za'atri refugee camp, pushing the total number of Syrian refugees recorded by the UN refugee agency in the countries surrounding Syria to well above 200,000.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on Friday the sharp rise from 170,116 to 202,512 in one week reflected both a decision to include those in Za'atri awaiting formal registration and the continuing influx of refugees into all countries neighbouring Syria.

The large number of Syrians crossing into Jordan on the night of August 23-24 had fled from various towns and villages; it far exceeded the previous record one-night figure of 1,254 refugees entering Jordan earlier in the week.

"Further arrivals are expected," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news conference in Geneva. "Across Jordan, some 61,000 people have registered with UNHCR or are awaiting registration. The Jordanian government estimates 150,000 Syrians are in Jordan."

There are now more than 14,500 Syrians in Za'atri refugee camp. Electricity has been extended to 40 percent of the Jordanian camp, allowing for other improvements in service in the future.

However, the largest number of Syrian refugees have gone to Turkey, with more than 74,000 registered by the government as of Wednesday. New arrivals are being temporarily housed in schools while additional camps are prepared.

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

A steady stream of Syrians, mainly from the cities of Aleppo, Damascus and Dara's, also continues to arrive in Lebanon. There are now 51,000 Syrian refugees who have registered or applied to register with UNHCR there. Many thousands of recent arrivals have not yet approached UNHCR to register, the UN agency said.

However, UNHCR operations in Lebanon, where the organization had opened a new refugee registration centre two weeks ago, are being hindered by an eruption of fighting in the northern port city of Tripoli between supporters and opponents of the Syrian government.

"The registration centre was open until yesterday with reduced staff as about half of them live in areas affected by shooting," said Edwards. "In the Bekaa valley in eastern Lebanon, registration of refugees is also affected because of security concerns in the wake of kidnapping of Syrians in the area."

UNHCR is concerned that the deteriorating security will disrupt its efforts to find and prepare shelter for some 500 Syrian refugees who have been temporarily housed in schools but must move before classes resume next month.

The continued flow of Syrian refugees into Iraq has slowed over the last week, UNHCR said, but there was a slight increase in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and the total for all Iraq now stands at 15,898.

In addition, many Iraqi refugees who had once found shelter in Syria have now fled back to their homeland. Several who were interviewed by UNHCR protection staff reported that they had been robbed on the road between Damascus and the Iraqi border.

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UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

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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.

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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.

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