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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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

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Tens of thousands of people have fled to Erbil and Duhok governorates in Iraq's Kurdistan region over the past week, sheltering in schools, mosques, churches and temporary camps following a surge of violence in parts of central and northern Iraq. UNHCR and its partners have been working to meet the urgent shelter needs. The refugee agency has delivered close to 1,000 tents to a transit camp being built by the authorities and NGOs at Garmawa, near Duhok.

Many of the people arriving from Mosul at checkpoints between Ninewa and governorate and Iraq's Kurdistan region have limited resources and cannot afford to pay for shelter. Some people stay with family, while others are staying in hotels and using up their meagre funds.

In the village of Alqosh, some 150 people from 20 families, with little more than the clothes on their back, have been living in several overcrowded classrooms in a primary school for the past week. One member of the group said they had lived in a rented apartment in Mosul and led a normal family life. But in Alqosh, they feared for the welfare and education of their children and the presence of snakes and scorpions.

Iraq Crisis: Finding a Place to Stay

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

In the past few days, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled fighting in the northern city of Mosul and other areas. UNHCR staff are on the ground to monitor the outflow and help those in need. The needs are immense, but UNHCR is working to provide shelter, protection, and emergency items, including tents. Many of the displaced left their homes without belongings and some lack money for housing, food, water or medical care. They arrive at checkpoints between Ninewa governorate and the Kurdistan region with no idea of where to go next, or how to pay expenses.

UN agencies, humanitarian groups, and government officials are coordinating efforts to do what they can to aid those in need. UN agencies are making an emergency request for additional support. UNHCR is hoping to provide emergency kits as well as thousands of tents. UNHCR and its partners will also be working to protect and help the displaced.

The exodus in the north comes on top of massive displacement this year in the western Iraqi governorate of Anbar, where fighting since January has forced some half-a-million people to flee the province or seek shelter in safer areas.

Iraq: Massive displacement from Mosul

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."
Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced Iraqis

This week UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is visiting Iraq to meet with families displaced by conflict in recent weeks. After listening to accounts of their difficult journeys to safety, Guterres called for more support to help deal with the crisis. He will also visit some of the 300,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps in northern Iraq.
Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New OpportunitiesPlay video

Lebanon: A Tradition Yields New Opportunities

UNHCR and partners are training scores of Syrian and Lebanese women in traditional fabric printing – helping to sustain centuries-old techniques and provide livelihoods for refugees and host communities.