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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

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

Iraqi Refugees in Syria: 2,000 New Arrivals Daily

The UN refugee agency is increasingly alarmed over the continuing violence in Iraq and distressed about the lack of an international humanitarian response to deal with the massive numbers of people being displaced. After an assessment mission in November last year, UNHCR officials warned that the agency was facing an even larger humanitarian crisis than it had prepared for in 2002-03. But UNHCR and other organisations are sorely lacking in funds to cope with the growing numbers of displaced.

In an effort to fill the massive gap in funding, UNHCR in January 2007 launched a US$60 million appeal to cover its protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within strife torn Iraq.

The longer the Iraq conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

Posted on 5 February 2007

Iraqi Refugees in Syria: 2,000 New Arrivals Daily

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

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