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UN High Commissioner for Refugees warns Security Council of "terrifying" humanitarian situation for Syria

Press Releases, 18 April 2013

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, warned the Security Council today that without an end to the fighting soon, almost half Syria's 20.8 million population could be in need of humanitarian help by the end of 2013.

In an address to the Council by video-link from Geneva, Guterres said 400,000 refugees had fled Syria in the last seven weeks, bringing the population of Syrians registered as refugees or waiting to be registered to 1,367,413. If current trends continue, he said, then by the end of the year there may be up to 3.5 million Syrian refugees, together with 6.5 million people inside Syria who may become in need of help.

"These figures are terrifying," he said. "This is not just frightening, it risks becoming simply unsustainable. There is no way to adequately respond to the enormous humanitarian needs these figures represent. And it is difficult to imagine how a nation can endure so much suffering."

"I know that, as High Commissioner for Refugees, I should confine my remarks to the scope of my mandate," he added. "But as a citizen of the world, I cannot refrain from asking: Isn't there any way to stop this fighting, to open the door for a political solution?"

Guterres told the Security Council that humanitarian funding needs had become so urgent that governments would need to look at extraordinary funding mechanisms to avoid the international response capacity becoming overwhelmed. He also warned of the growing pressure the refugee crisis is exerting on countries in the region.

"The first step necessary… is for the international community to provide massive support to the two countries that are most dramatically impacted by the Syrian conflict and the refugee outflow it has caused Jordan and Lebanon," he said.

"For Lebanon, the Syrian crisis has become an existential threat. The population has grown by more than 10 per cent if one counts the registered Syrian refugees alone… [In Jordan], like in Lebanon, the Syria crisis has caused a significant drop in revenues from trade, tourism, and foreign investment, compounded by the impact of a very large refugee influx."

Guterres also noted the huge impact the crisis is having on Turkey, which he said deserved particular recognition for having provided more than $750 million in direct assistance to over 300,000 Syrian Refugees.

"Helping Syria's neighbours deal with the human fallout of this terrible conflict is crucial for preserving the stability of the entire region. This is not just another refugee crisis what happens in Syria and in the neighbouring countries potentially has much wider, even global, implications."

Earlier on Thursday, Kuwait became the latest country to donate, providing UNHCR with $110 million for its Syria operations as part of a $275 million package of funding for UN agencies. Kuwait's donation is the largest the agency has ever received from a Gulf country and means that UNHCR has now received around 50 per cent of the funds it has requested for Syrian refugees and displaced during the first half of 2013. A new appeal is due in May.

The full text of High Commissioner Guterres' address is available here

For additional information:

  • Adrian Edwards, edwards@unhcr.org +41 79 557 9120
  • Melissa Fleming, fleming@unhcr.org +41 79 557 9122
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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.

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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

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