UNHCR head of protection calls for safe passage for uprooted Syrians

Briefing Notes, 4 December 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 4 December 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, yesterday visited refugees in Jordan's Za'atri refugee camp and noted that innocent civilians were the prime victims of the on-going conflict in Syria.

On her second mission to the region in less than a month, Feller met refugees who had recently made it to safety in Jordan. Many were elderly, including one woman who had recently undergone open-heart surgery. Several were clearly traumatized.

Feller said the conflict was disproportionately affecting civilians at least 2.5 million of them and called on both sides to ensure that those who have fled their homes throughout the country were able to reach safety. In some areas, insecurity has reached to the country's borders, making escape to neighbouring states especially perilous.

As UNHCR's senior refugee protection official, Feller reviewed reception arrangements at Za'atri, which as of this week has received more than 60,000 Syrian refugees since it opened four months ago. Many of those 60,000 have since moved on, some into the local community and others have returned to Syria. Za'atri currently has about 32,000 residents.

Preparations for winter are well underway in the camp, where overnight temperatures are now dropping to 1 degree Celsius. Tents are being reinforced and better insulated to protect against the weather, including the addition of "porches" where gas heaters are being placed. Some 30,000 high thermal blankets are being distributed, along with winter clothing.

A storm drainage system is being built and a layer of crushed rock spread throughout the camp to channel water away from shelters and prevent mud and standing water. In addition, more than 1,300 prefabricated shelters have been erected and another 1,300 are expected to be in place within three weeks.

As this work continues, we have recently heard erroneous reports that refugee children have died at the camp because of the cold. This is incorrect. Since November 23, we have had four infant deaths due to other medical conditions, but not because of the weather. Medical reports indicate that two of the infants had congenital defects one of the oesophagus, and the other of the heart. Two other infants died as a result of serious diarrhoea. UNHCR extends its deep condolences to the parents, families and the Za'atri community. It is absolutely heart-breaking for us and for our partners who are working around the clock in the camp to try to help those who have already suffered far too much.

STATISTICS

Region wide, the number of Syrians registered or awaiting registration is now 475,280. This comprises 138,889 in Jordan, 133,895 in Lebanon, 130,449 in Turkey, 60,307 in Iraq, and 11,740 in North Africa.

In addition, governments in the region estimate there are several hundred thousand more Syrians who have not yet come forward for registration, including up to 150,000 in Egypt, 100,000 in Jordan, 70,000 in Turkey, and tens of thousands in Lebanon. More of these people are expected to seek registration in the coming months as their resources dwindle.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Amman: Ron Redmond (Regional Spokesman) on mobile +962 79 982 5867
  • Tala Kattan on mobile: +962 79 978 3186
  • Aoife McDonnell on mobile: +962 795 450 379
  • At the Turkish border: Mohammed Abu Asaker (Regional Spokesman, Arabic) on mobile + 971 50 621 3552
  • In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile: 41 79 557 9138
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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

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

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