UNHCR fears for returning Syrian refugees

Briefing Notes, 12 April 2013

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 12 April 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Over the past ten days UNHCR has seen an increase in the number of Syrians opting to return home from Jordan. During this period, an average of three hundred people have been crossing each day, returning to villages close to the border in the governorate of Daraa. A sizeable part of this governorate remains a battleground, and UNHCR fears for the safety of the returnees, the vast majority of whom are families.

New arrivals to Jordan continue to outpace this limited number of returns, with an average of 2,000 people crossing each day into Jordan. Every day there are wounded new arrivals. The total number of Syrian refugees who have spontaneously returned is less than one per cent of the total arrivals.

UNHCR is very concerned that refugees are returning to areas blighted by shortages of food, lack of fuel and electricity and limited services. The security situation is volatile, with reports of artillery shells and mortars being fired into villages refugees are trying to reclaim their homes and lives in.

Returnees are joining hundreds of thousands of Syrians in southern Syria who have long been struggling to survive. Basic staples like bread are often in short supply, while healthcare and education are often unavailable. If the conditions do not improve, it will be impossible for many to remain there.

The reasons for returning are varied, including improved security in a number of border villages, safeguarding their property, reuniting with family members who remained in Syria, or travelling to collect and bring back vulnerable family members to Jordan.

According to government estimates the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan is expected to exceed half a million refugees this month. If conditions do not improve inside Syria, the unrelenting flow of refugees fleeing to Jordan can be expected to continue.

UNHCR does not promote or facilitate these returns but we are counselling refugees who wish to return of the conditions they will face. We also undertake regular missions to the border. UNHCR is working with the Jordanian authorities to ensure that all refugees have access to their documentation should they make the decision to return to Syria.

Meanwhile from Iraq we have seen 3,900 returns in the past year, mainly from Al Qaim camp in Anbar Governorate to Abu Kamal in Syria. The situation in Abu Kamal is volatile, with bombings and ongoing conflict in the province. The main reasons given by refugees for returning are lack of freedom of movement in Al Qaim, limited livelihood opportunities and encouraging reports from their home areas regarding security. UNHCR is not associated with the returns and does not facilitate it. We are closely monitoring the situation and provide individual counselling to potential returnees to ensure they make an informed decision and understand the possible consequences of their return.

UNHCR provides regular technical support in the voluntary repatriations from Turkey through observation of the interviews conducted by designated Turkish authorities to safeguard the voluntary nature of return. According to the Prime Minister's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) over 97,000 Syrians have returned since March 2011. Of this number UNHCR has observed interviews with 13,000 cases, that's over 24,000 people. Roughly half of those returning said they were going back to Syria temporarily to check on their homes or to attend funerals. Some said that they were returning due to reports of an improvement in the security situation in their home areas.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Amman: Tala Kattan on mobile: +962 79 978 3186
  • In Beirut: Reem Alsalem on mobile + 961 71 911 388
  • In Abu Dhabi: Mohammed Abu Asaker (Arabic) on mobile + 971 50 621 3552
  • In Geneva: Melissa Fleming on mobile +41 79 557 9122
  • Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 9138
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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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