More than 100,000 flee Syria in August, highest monthly total

News Stories, 4 September 2012

© UNHCR/S.Malkawi
A Syrian family gets a lift at a crossing to Lebanon where they will register at UNHCR centres.

GENEVA, September 4 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said Tuesday that the number of refugees fleeing Syria rose sharply in August, with 103,416 people seeking asylum in surrounding countries. It was the highest monthly total of the Syria crisis to date and brought the total number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration to more than 235,300.

UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, also told journalists in Geneva that Iraqi refugees in Syria continue to return to their country by the hundreds. "Most tell us they are leaving because of general insecurity, although some have reported direct threats," she said.

During the weekend a taxi used by Iraqi families to return to Iraq was hijacked, while UNHCR outreach workers said three Iraqi refugees were killed last week in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, increasing fear among the refugee population there. According to the Iraqi government, 35,000 people returned to Iraq in July and August.

UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent continue to expand operations to support displaced Syrians. The refugee agency has launched a programme of financial assistance for displaced families in Al Nabek, a town located between Damascus and Homs where large numbers of displaced people have sought safety.

Fleming said that 300 vulnerable families in Al Nabek received cheques on Monday which they will cash at local banks. "Based on experience of supporting Iraqi refugees, and feedback from displaced families, financial assistance is proving to be the most effective way of supporting vulnerable families in the constrained security environment in much of Syria," she said.

UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent hope to expand this programme to 35,000 families (around 200,000 people) in the coming months. To date, 730 displaced families have benefitted, in addition to the 8,500 Iraqi refugee families (around 35,000 individuals) currently receiving financial assistance from UNHCR.

Among neighbouring countries, Iraq has seen a significant increase in the number of Syrian Kurds arriving in the past week, with an estimated 500 Syrians crossing a day, compared to 500 a week in the first three weeks of August. In the Kurdistan region, the authorities have agreed to work with UNHCR on a programme for urban refugees. They have also agreed to the establishment of a second camp, which will mainly accommodate Syrian Kurds. Elsewhere in Iraq there are reports of smaller numbers of Syrians arriving, including in Baghdad and Najaf.

In response to the large numbers of Iraqis electing to return to Iraq, the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration is expediting the registration process for returnees. This should enable returnees to receive government assistance for their reintegration in the coming weeks and months. UNHCR is assisting returnees with household items and will soon start a small cash assistance programme for the most vulnerable returnee families.

In Jordan, refugees continue to arrive at a rate of about 1,000 a day. There are reports of an increasing numbers of displaced people in southern Syria. The Jordanian government, UNHCR and partners are making preparations in the event of a large influx, bringing in relief items for 150,000 people.

In Lebanon, UNHCR is this week opening a mobile registration centre in Baalbeck in the eastern Bekaa Valley in response to the increasing number of displaced Syrians who are settling in the area. There are now more than 59,000 displaced Syrians who are registered or are awaiting registration with UNHCR in Lebanon. Of the registered population, 55 per cent are in the north of Lebanon and 42 per cent are in the Bekaa Valley.

"Host families are increasingly stretched in their capacity to host refugees and UNHCR is appealing to authorities in Lebanon to approve alternative shelter options," Fleming said in Geneva.

In addition some 180 families are staying in six schools due to open this month. Many are coming under pressure to move out. Yesterday a number of families were evicted from al-Marj school and UNHCR is seeking permission for them to return while alternative shelter is sought.

UNHCR and its partners have also been working hard to increase the enrolment of Syrian children in Lebanese schools meeting with school directors and reaching out to refugee communities. They have also agreed to cover school fees and other expenses.

And in Turkey, the authorities say the country is hosting 80,410 Syrian refugees. Some refugees have returned to Syria reportedly due to a shift in conflict areas or because of concerns for their property amid rumours of looting. Many indicate that they may have to return to Turkey.

Meanwhile, there is still a backlog of Syrians waiting to be processed at the border with around 8,000 believed to be waiting to cross. They are being given food, water and medical assistance at the border and will be admitted to Turkey gradually. The government of Turkey continues to assure UNHCR that the borders will remain open to refugees.

In recent days, the government has moved more than 4,000 refugees staying in schools in several provinces to a new camp in Karkamis. Another camp was opened on Monday at Kahramanmaras and will host refugees staying in schools in southern Turkey and newly arrived refugees.

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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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