UNHCR reiterates call for access to international protection for Syrian refugees

Briefing Notes, 24 May 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 24 May 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Geneva, 24 May 2013 -- With the violence worsening inside Syria, UNHCR expects that growing numbers of people will continue to seek safety and assistance across international borders.

UNHCR commends the neighboring governments of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq for hosting over 1.5 million Syrian refugees so far and recognizes the heavy burden the refugee influx is placing on their societies.

While governments assure us that borders will remain open, UNHCR is concerned about reports that many Syrians trying to flee may be backed up at the borders in areas that are extremely dangerous. We are also disturbed by accounts indicating there may be restrictions imposed on those wishing to leave Syria.

We call on all parties to protect civilians and allow safe passage for those wishing to flee.

UNHCR fully acknowledges the legitimate concerns of neighboring countries, but it is essential that civilians fleeing violence have access to safety under all circumstances also in accordance to international law. UNHCR fully appreciates our permanent dialogue with these governments in this regard.

At the same time, it is critical that the international community provides urgent and robust support to refugee hosting countries and humanitarian operations to enable them to continue to receive and address the growing needs of Syrian refugees. These countries should not be left to shoulder the burden alone.

We therefore also encourage all countries, not just those bordering Syria, to keep their borders open to offer protection to Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, UNHCR and its partners are stepping up efforts and appealing for new funds to support the refugee population with a full range of life-saving and life-sustaining assistance.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva: Melissa Fleming on office no. +41 22 739 79 65
  • In Geneva: Daniel McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 30 11
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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

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

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