UN Refugee Chief warns of dire consequences of lack of funding for Syrian refugees

Press Releases, 15 March 2013

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, today reiterated his call for governments to create special funds to support Syrian refugees and the countries that host them. He warned that unless funding for Syrian refugees comes rapidly, urgently needed support could be denied to refugees in dire need and the region could become unstable.

Speaking at a press conference in Beirut on the second anniversary of the start of the Syria conflict, Mr. Guterres said the escalation of the conflict and scale of human suffering in Syria was "staggering" and the "impact on the region unprecedented in recent decades."

He said there is a widening gap between needs and the resources available to support Syrian victims. "There is no way a gap of this magnitude can be filled with current humanitarian budgets. We are witnessing not only a humanitarian tragedy, but also a threat to international peace and security. It is a question of enlightened self-interest." He warned that if the war is not stopped, "there will be an explosion in the Middle East."

"There is a gap of US$700 million," Mr. Guterres said, noting humanitarian organizations had received only 30 per cent of funds required to cover the basic needs of more than 1.1 million refugees. He expressed his hope that funds pledged at a 30 January conference in Kuwait would materialize and be devoted to the UN humanitarian response.

Mr. Guterres also appealed to the international community to recognize the enormous strain on host governments. Lebanon, host to more than 350,000 refugees, has witnessed a 10 per cent increase in its population in a period of one year. "This conflict represents an existential threat to Lebanon," he said.

In meetings with refugees in Ketermaya, south of Beirut, and in Tripoli, Guterres heard from refugees who described the challenges they face in identifying housing and in paying high rents. A critical lack of funding is holding up innovative projects aimed at identifying new forms of shelter and renovating existing accommodation.

Refugee families told Mr. Guterres their children have been out of school for up to two years. Partners like UNICEF have remedial classes in place in some parts of Lebanon, but would like to expand further their activities to increase school enrolment and retention of children in schools.

Health experts also described the risk of diarrhoea, hepatitis A and scabies if urgently needed water and sanitation projects are not supported. Currently, UNHCR and partners are covering 85 per cent of the costs of basic health care costs of refugees attending health clinics.

"Lebanon needs massive support," he said. "It cannot do it alone."

The Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees, with a budget of US$1 billion, details the coordinated response of 55 NGOs and UN agencies, led by UNHCR. Launched in December 2012, the plan anticipated that up to 1.1 million Syrian refugees could flee to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt by mid-2013. This number was passed earlier this week. There are currently 1.126 million Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt, while new refugees arrive at a rate of about 8,000 a day.

Mr Guterres is on the last leg of a visit to the region. He visited Turkey and Jordan earlier in the week.

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