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High Commissioner for Refugees warns of moment of truth for Syria, risk of unmanageable crisis

Press Releases, 19 March 2013

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Tuesday told United States senators that Syria's worsening humanitarian crisis risks overwhelming the international community's capacity to respond.

"All of the agencies involved in this humanitarian response are dramatically underfunded, with some fearing they will run out of money as early as Easter [March 31]," Guterres told the US Senate's Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs in Washington, D.C. "I appeal to governments and parliaments to urgently approve extraordinary funding for the victims of the Syria crisis, to ensure that their most basic needs are met and the stability of the region preserved."

Last week, Guterres visited Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, where he met with Syrian refugees, government officials and host communities.

"The refugee numbers are staggering, but they cannot convey the full extent of the tragedy," said Guterres on Tuesday, noting that three-quarters of the 1.1 million Syrian refugees were women and children. "There are harrowing reports of rape and sexual abuse of women and children," he added, noting the need to fund programmes for victims of sexual violence and women at risk.

He stressed the "severe pressure" that the host countries are under and called for international solidarity. "Helping them deal with the consequences of the refugee crisis is imperative, as the preservation of their economic and social stability is in everyone's essential interest," he added.

The High Commissioner told the senators that the most tragic consequences of the crisis were being felt inside Syria, with an estimated 3.6 million people displaced and many more in need of aid. He noted UNHCR's commitment to delivering aid to all those in need, in both opposition and government-controlled areas and highlighted the high security risks faced by UN agencies and NGOs inside Syria as they try to assist displaced people.

"Convoys have been shot at, hijacked, warehouses destroyed and looted, and several UN-contracted truck drivers have been killed since the beginning of the conflict," said Guterres.

The High Commissioner expressed his appreciation for the tremendous financial support provided by the US for the humanitarian response, but warned the members of the sub-committee of "a real risk of this conflict spilling over across the region."

He said that "what is happening in Syria today risks escalating very quickly into disaster that could overwhelm the international response capacity political, security-related and humanitarian." He closed his statement calling for a political solution, insisting that: "If this conflict is not stopped, we will probably have an explosion in the Middle East. Nobody wants that."

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UNHCR country pages

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

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