Registered Syrian refugees in surrounding states triple in three months

Briefing Notes, 2 October 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 2 October 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The number of Syrians registered or awaiting registration as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq has now surpassed 300,000, triple the level of just three months ago. The latest figures show a total regional registered population of more than 311,500 Syrian refugees in the four countries, compared to around 100,000 in June.

The continuing rapid growth in refugee numbers underscores the urgency of last week's revised Syria Regional Response Plan seeking $487.9 million in support of up to 710,000 Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries by the end of this year. The generosity and hospitality shown by these countries as they struggle to cope with growing numbers of refugees make it essential that the international community provide as much support as possible. Many refugees and the communities hosting them are already running out of resources.

Compounding the urgency is the upcoming onset of winter temperatures across the region, in less than 10 weeks from now. We are in a race against time. In Jordan, for example, where thousands are living in tents, the average low temperature between mid-November and mid-March is two degrees Celsius. A winterization plan is being developed, but it too requires support and funding.

JORDAN: 103,488 Syrians in Jordan have registered or are awaiting registration four times more than in June. The new regional response plan estimates some 250,000 Syrian refugees will need assistance in Jordan by the end of the year. Some 65 percent of Syrian refugees currently receiving or seeking assistance in Jordan are in urban areas, while the remaining 35 percent are in the new camp at Za'atri and other smaller facilities (King Abdullah Park and Cyber City). Since it opened just two months ago, Za'atri has received more than 30,000 people.

In many cases, those living on the local economy are finding it increasingly difficult as their resources dwindle. Our Jordan office has seen a marked increase in Syrians struggling to live in urban areas approaching UNHCR help desks in Irbid, Ramtha, Mafraq and Zarqa, most of them worried about possible eviction. The vast majority of new arrivals are poor and in need of some kind of humanitarian assistance. UNHCR and its partners offer a variety of programmes to assist urban refugees in need, including cash assistance and the provision of a package of household items ranging from kitchen sets and mattresses to sanitation items. Since March, some 55,000 Syrians have received assistance items, while cash grants have gone to more than 2,600 of the most destitute families.

LEBANON: The number of registered Syrian refugees and those awaiting registration in Lebanon is now more than 80,800 people. The Lebanese government estimates that, in addition, tens of thousands of Syrians have entered Lebanon this year and not yet returned. Registered or not, they all live on the local economy often depending on relatives or their own resources. It is expected that an increasing number will be seeking assistance in the coming months as the resources of refugees as well as their host families become seriously stretched. Thus, the revised Syria response plan estimates a registered Syrian refugee population of 120,000 by the end of 2012.

The scattered nature of the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon is posing challenges in providing assistance in often remote areas. Some 56 percent are residing in the north; 41 percent in the Bekaa; and three percent in Beirut and the south. Many of the hosting communities are among the most economically depressed in Lebanon. As numbers increase and the winter months approach, needs are increasing and becoming more acute. UNHCR and partner agencies are rolling out a winterization program aiming to provide refugee families and vulnerable Lebanese ones with fuel for heating, mattresses, blankets and clothes as well as needed refurbishment to accommodations in readiness for the colder months.

TURKEY: Based on figures from the Government of Turkey, the number of Syrian refugees registered and assisted by the government in camps was 93,576 as of Oct. 1. Several thousand more are known to be residing outside the current 13 camps. Three more camps are opening. Under the revised response plan, Turkey could be hosting up to 280,000 Syrian refugees by the end of this year.

In addition to the influx of Syrians, Turkey has also seen an increase in the number of urban asylum applications over the past 15 months many of them related to the crisis in Syria. The new arrivals consist mostly of Iraqis, Iranians, Afghans and others who have come to Turkey seeking protection.

IRAQ: 33,704 Syrians have been registered in Iraq, including 4,263 in the past week. More than 28,000 are Syrian nationals of Kurdish origin who have arrived in the Kurdistan Region (Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaimaniya). Further south, at Al-Qaem, Anbar governorate, more than 5,600 Syrian nationals have sought asylum since the Baghdad government opened the country's borders in late July.

Initially, many of those fleeing into the Kurdish Region were single refugees. Recently, however, there has been a growing proportion of families among the new arrivals.

The revised regional response plan estimates that up to 60,000 Syrians may be in need of protection and assistance in Iraq by the end of the year.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Beirut: Mohammed Abu Asaker on mobile + 971 50 621 3552
  • In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38
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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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