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Remarks to the United Nations Security Council, by António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Statements by High Commissioner, 16 July 2013

16 July 2013

As delivered

Madam President,

Thank you very much for the opportunity to address the Council.

There are now nearly 1.8 million Syrian refugees known to UNHCR in the region. Two thirds of them have fled Syria since the beginning of this year, an average of over 6,000 people a day. We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost twenty years ago.

This crisis has been going on for much longer than anyone had feared, with unbearable humanitarian consequences. The people of Syria continue to suffer tremendously, a suffering that is now further aggravated by the hot summer temperatures, and particularly distressing during this holy month of Ramadan.

Syria's neighbors have allowed huge numbers of refugees to find safety on their soil, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. But their generosity comes at an increasingly heavy price. While Syria continues to drain itself of its people, the prospects for a political solution and an end to the fighting remain poor and the warning signs of destabilization in some neighboring countries are troubling. The continuing influx could send them over the edge if the international community does not act more resolutely to help.

In Lebanon, there is now not a single village or town that has not been affected by the presence of more than 600,000 registered Syrian refugees. The country's borders remain open, and thousands of people cross every day. But the conflict in Syria is steadily creeping into Lebanon, with the number of security incidents increasing in Tripoli, the South, and parts of the Bekaa Valley. The country's political system is paralyzed and will likely remain so until the Syrian crisis is over.

Elsewhere in the region, access to safety is becoming more difficult for people trying to flee. Sectarian clashes have intensified in Iraq, and the country has shut its borders, slowing arrivals to a trickle. I have been in close contact with the Iraqi authorities to try to overcome this situation. Iraq currently hosts over 160,000 Syrian refugees.

In Egypt, where UNHCR has registered some 90,000 Syrian refugees, the situation has also deteriorated recently. A number of flights from Syria were turned back last week, following a decision to impose visa requirements and security clearance for Syrians, which are difficult to obtain prior to travel. While I fully understand the challenges Egypt is currently facing, I do hope that the country will continue to extend its traditional hospitality to Syrian refugees, as it has done since the beginning of the conflict.

In Turkey and Jordan, which together host nearly a million Syrian refugees, the authorities are now carefully managing the borders with Syria, mainly due to national security concerns. The borders are not closed refugees continue to cross but many can only do so in a gradual manner.

There is no question that it is imperative for both countries to ensure their own security in an increasingly tense regional environment. However, I hope the right balance will be found between measures to prevent dangerous infiltrations, and the need to ensure that refugees seeking safety especially families, elderly people, and women with children are not stranded in precarious conditions or exposed to the risk of getting caught in the fighting.

Beyond the region, I am also concerned about significant gaps in the protection of Syrians in several European countries that are under much less pressure than Syria's immediate neighbors.

Madam President,

The danger that the Syria conflict could ignite the whole region is not an empty warning. Measures must be taken now to mitigate the enormous risks of spill-over and to support the stability of Syria's neighbors, so as to keep the situation from escalating into a political, security and humanitarian crisis that would move far beyond the international capacity to respond.

The impact of the refugee crisis on the neighboring countries is crushing, and the recent restrictions on access sound an alarm bell which must not be ignored. It is time to recognize that we cannot go on treating the impact of the Syrian crisis as a simple humanitarian emergency.

As the conflict drags on and on, a longer-term approach is needed, focusing on development assistance especially for those countries and communities that are most seriously affected by the refugee crisis. While Lebanon and Jordan are bearing the heaviest burden, we also should not forget the significant impact the influx has had on the Kurdish region of Iraq, and the enormous efforts made by Turkey in assisting over 400,000 refugees with hundreds of millions of dollars of its own resources.

I therefore appeal to all development actors international financial institutions, UN organizations and national and regional development agencies to cooperate with the concerned governments in formulating and supporting community development programmes that will assist these states to cope with the impact of the crisis in Syria. Some concrete steps have already been taken, by the World Bank, the EU Commission, and several donor countries. But what is needed now is a well-coordinated and comprehensive plan of action to help ease the pressure on the most affected host countries and allow them to continue sheltering refugees. UNHCR, with its extensive presence on the ground, is fully prepared to support such an effort.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I reiterate my call to all States, in the region and further afield, to keep borders open and receive all Syrians who seek protection. But massive international solidarity with the neighboring countries is central to making this appeal successful. Resettlement and humanitarian admission opportunities can complement this as useful, even if limited, measures of burden-sharing.

What I am asking for today is essential to mitigate the risk of an explosion that could engulf the entire Middle East. But only a political solution for Syria, and an end to the fighting, can fully stop this risk. I still have not lost hope that the Syrian parties themselves, all others who are directly or indirectly involved in the conflict, and the international community as a whole which this Council is mandated to represent, will be able to come together and put an end to the bloodshed.

We have seen too many conflicts fester for too long and then spread like wildfire. We cannot afford to have this happen with Syria.

Thank you very much.

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The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres presented Sister Angélique Namaika of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the prestigious Nansen Refugee Award at a gala ceremony in Geneva on Monday night.

Sister Angélique, through her Centre for Reintegration and Development, has helped transform the lives of more than 2,000 women and girls who had been forced from their homes and abused by fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) or other armed groups. Many of those she helps suffered abduction, forced labour, beatings, murder, rape or other human rights abuses.

The Roman Catholic nun helps survivors to heal by offering them the chance to learn a trade, start a small business or go to school. Testimonies from these women show the remarkable effect she has had on helping turn around their lives, with many affectionately calling her "mother."

The Award ceremony featured a keynote speech from best-selling author Paulo Coelho and musical performances by singer-songwriter Dido, Malaysian singer-songwriter Yuna and Grammy-nominated Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam.

2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

On 1 August, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres travelled to northern Burkina Faso with the United States' Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BRPM), Anne Richard. In Damba camp, they met with Malian refugees who had fled northern Mali in the past six months to escape the ongoing conflict and political instability. To date, more than 250,000 Malian refugees have fled their homes and found refuge in neighbouring countries, including 107,000 in Burkina Faso alone. The UN refugee agency has only received one-third of the US$153 million it needs to provide life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, health services, nutrition and protection to the refugees. UNHCR fears that the volatile political and humanitarian situation in Mali could lead to further outflows to neighbouring countries.

UNHCR chief meets Malian refugees in Burkina Faso

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie joined UNHCR chief António Guterres on the Italian island of Lampedusa, where they met with boat people who have fled unrest in North Africa.

More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

Angelina Jolie meets boat people in Malta, Lampedusa

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat campPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits Arbat camp

Concluding a visit to Iraq, UNHCR chief António Guterres met with Syrian refugees in Arbat camp in the Kurdistan region. Guterres noted the recent proliferation of humanitarian crises, but urged the international community not to forget about Syria, "the mega protracted crisis of our times."
Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced IraqisPlay video

Iraq: High Commissioner visits displaced Iraqis

This week UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres is visiting Iraq to meet with families displaced by conflict in recent weeks. After listening to accounts of their difficult journeys to safety, Guterres called for more support to help deal with the crisis. He will also visit some of the 300,000 Syrian refugees currently living in camps in northern Iraq.
Jordan: UNHCR and Host Countries Discuss SyriaPlay video

Jordan: UNHCR and Host Countries Discuss Syria

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres meets in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp with leaders of countries hosting Syrian refugees in the region. He again urged the international community to do more to help these countries shoulder the burden.