UNHCR chief visits Syrian border, calls for international support

News Stories, 20 June 2013

© UNHCR/J.Kohler
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres speaks with newly arrived Syrian refugees at a Jordanian government receiving centre just inside the border.

SYRIAN-JORDAN BORDER, June 20 (UNHCR) In the hours before dusk, people wait along the windswept border between Jordan and Syria, desperate for the opportunity for safe passage. Arguments break out. They shout across a berm at Jordanian soldiers who calmly guard the border. They want to know if now is the time to cross.

A soldier gives the word and they run. They run as fast as they can. Fathers drag their sons. Women, children, old men and old women move as fast as their legs will carry them. They run because they are thirsty, hungry and desperately afraid. They are the most recent refugees from Syria's two-year civil war.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, a witness to the night's crossing, walks along a dirt road to meet the group of 400 new arrivals. "It's very important for the international community to express full solidarity with the refugees themselves and with the neighbouring countries," says Guterres. "Only massive international solidarity can allow them to be able to go on responding to the needs of the Syrian refugees."

The High Commissioner is in Jordan as part of a visit to the region to mark World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20 each year. Earlier in the week he visited Lebanon and met with refugees and government leaders.

In Jordan, he has visited with government officials, humanitarian workers and refugees. The purpose of the visit is to draw attention to the plight of Syrian refugees and to call on the international community to support them and the people in neighbouring countries who have been playing host to them.

"I have come to Jordan on this World Refugee Day to stand by the people of Syria in their time of acute need," Guterres said in a statement. "I also want to salute Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and all the countries in the region for being generous havens that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives."

"There is hardly a town or a city in Jordan that is not host to Syrians," he added. "It is much the same in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. That hospitality is a remarkable demonstration of humanity against a backdrop of depravity."

At the same time, he called on world leaders to find a political solution. "We will continue to do everything we can to aid and alleviate the suffering of Syrians," said Guterres. "But the cascade of death and destruction is spreading fast and I repeat my call on those with political responsibilities to overcome their divisions and come together to do everything in their power to stop this war."

Among the latest arrivals from Syria, the cost of that war, and the need for support and hospitality, is painfully apparent. A wounded man has been shot near the belly. He is taken away by an ambulance.

An elderly woman dressed in black beckons to soldiers for help. She shakes with exhaustion. She has been walking for hours. No food. No water. A crowd gathers around her until soldiers take her to safety. She sips a bottle of water held by her son. They fled the village of Rafik near the Israeli border, 10 days ago. "I carried her on my back," he explains. "There was shooting all the time during our journey. We just kept walking."

A woman named Zainab says she doesn't know her age. "Maybe I am 80," she says. "Maybe I am older." She says that she fled alone from a Damascus suburb after her home was bombed into rubble. Neighbours and passersby pushed her wheelchair to the border crossing and finally rolled her across the dirt and stone road into Jordan.

There are signs in this group that conditions in Syria are getting worse. Earlier this year, refugees would cross the border laden with personal belongings. They carried olive oil for their families already in Jordan, large suitcases, even their pets. Now the bags are smaller and the feeling of desperation more palpable. As long as the fighting continues, Syrians will have no choice but to take what they have and flee, and rely on the kindness of strangers.

By Melissa Fleming and Greg Beals on the Jordan-Syria border



Jordan: High Commissioner Urges Borders Stay OpenPlay video

Jordan: High Commissioner Urges Borders Stay Open

During his trip to Jordan to mark World Refugee Day on June 20, UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres visited Tel Shihab border crossing where he urged all neighboring countries to keep their borders.

UNHCR country pages

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

Posted on 20 February 2007

Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this 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.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's 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 Iraq itself.

Posted on 10 January 2007

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

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

Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlementPlay video

Celebrating 10 years of refugee resettlement

Jordan: Camp Life From a Child's ViewpointPlay video

Jordan: Camp Life From a Child's Viewpoint

A UNHCR photographic project, "Do You See What I See," lets young refugees in Jordan's Za'atari camp share their world and thoughts with others.
Turkey: Faysal's Flight from Kobane , SyriaPlay video

Turkey: Faysal's Flight from Kobane , Syria

More than 170,000 people have fled from the town of Kobane in northern Syria to escape a fierce offensive by ISIL militants. Faysal managed to escape to Turkey before the fighting in the cauldron of conflict intensified, but he still has some family left in the besieged town on the border.