Number of Syrian refugees registered in region passes half a million

Briefing Notes, 11 December 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 11 December 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

More than half a million Syrian refugees have now been registered or are awaiting registration in the four surrounding countries and North Africa, and the numbers are currently climbing by more than 3,000 per day.

According to UNHCR's latest figures from Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and North Africa, 509,559 Syrians are either already registered (425,160) or in the process of being registered (84,399).

Contrary to public perceptions, only about 40 per cent of registered Syrian refugees region-wide actually live in refugee camps. The majority live outside camps, often in rental housing, with host families, or in various types of collective centres and renovated accommodation.

In Lebanon and North Africa, for example, there are no camps. Instead, Syrian refugees live in both urban and rural communities. In Jordan, only 24 per cent live in camps. In Iraq, half are in camps. And in Turkey, 100 per cent are in government-run camps.

There are currently 14 camps in Turkey, three in Iraq and three in Jordan.

As of yesterday, the latest figures of registered Syrian refugees or those awaiting registration in each country are: Lebanon, 154,387; Jordan, 142,664; Turkey, 136,319; Iraq, 64,449; and North Africa, 11,740.

In addition to those already registered or awaiting registration, most of these neighbouring countries and North Africa also have large numbers of Syrians who have yet not come forward to seek help. Jordan estimates, for example, that it has some 100,000 who are not registered. Turkey estimates there are more than 70,000 outside camps, while Egypt is estimating a similar number there. Lebanon also estimates that it has tens of thousands who have not yet registered.

Since the beginning of November, the number of registered refugees region-wide has risen by about 3,200 a day, including both new arrivals from Syria and those who had already been in the asylum countries for some time but had not sought help through registration. The numbers of those struggling to live on the local economy and who eventually come forward to register are expected to increase as the conflict in Syria continues, resources are depleted and host communities and families can no longer support them.

In the case of Jordan, close to 1000 Syrian refugees have crossed during the past two nights. Syrian refugees arriving during recent bad weather, reached Jordan with soaked clothing and mud-covered shoes due to heavy rainfall. UNHCR protection teams described the night time arrivals as fearful, freezing, and without proper winter clothing. UNHCR and partners have welcomed some 2,500 Syrian refugees to the Za'atri camp in the past week with blankets, sleeping mats and a high energy meal, with doctors responding to the medical needs of the newly arrived.

UNHCR observed in Jordan an increase in elderly arrivals and children, with 60 per cent of recent arrivals under the age of 18, including 22 new born infants during the night of the 9th of December, and also including a number of unaccompanied minors. The eldest arrival was an 85-year-old woman, who had fled with her grandchildren.

As part of efforts to help refugees deal with the winter cold, UNHCR and humanitarian partners are in the process of distributing some 50,000 high thermal blankets at Za'atri. This is in addition to some 62,000 blankets that have already been distributed in Za'atri to date. On 10 December, UNHCR's partner in the winterization efforts, Norwegian Refugee Council, received the first batch of gas heaters on site, which will be a welcome addition to the new porches being installed as temperatures continue to drop.

UNHCR is stepping up its outreach activities in the region to provide registration and help to those who need it. This is not easy, given the wide dispersal of the Syrian refugees in some areas. In Lebanon, for example, they are spread across some 500 municipalities, some of them quite remote.

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
  • In Geneva: Melissa Fleming on mobile: +41 79 557 9122
  • Adrian Edwards on mobile: +41 79 557 9120
  • At the Turkish border: Mohammed Abu Asaker (Regional Spokesman, Arabic) on mobile + 971 50 621 3552
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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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