UNHCR and Syria's neighbours announce joint push for expanded international support for countries hosting large refugee populations

Press Releases, 4 September 2013

With two million refugees having fled Syria, government ministers from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey announced with UNHCR today that they had agreed to jointly seek an urgent and major expansion of international help for the region.

Lebanon's Minister of Social Affairs Wael Abu Faour, Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, joined High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in expressing serious concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the region, and the devastating impact this is having on countries hosting large Syrian refugee populations.

In an agreed statement, the High Commissioner and the Ministers said, "We are facing the dramatic escalation of the Syrian conflict, namely with the use of chemical weapons. We strongly appeal to the international community to overcome existing differences and come together to stop the fighting. All actions that are creating refugee flows need to cease. A political solution to end this cycle of horror is urgently needed. There is no humanitarian solution to the Syrian crisis; rather there needs to be a political solution that ends the humanitarian crisis."

Wednesday's agreement now paves the way for a High-Level Segment at ministerial level to be held on September 30 as part of UNHCR's annual Executive Committee gathering. Those discussions will seek to build consensus for large-scale commitments incorporating humanitarian and emergency development support. This would include the involvement of international financial institutions.

Based on numbers of refugees who have registered or are pending registration, Syria's neighbours are today hosting more than two million Syrian refugees, compounding already growing strains on their structures and economies. Some 720,000 of these refugees are in Lebanon, 520,000 in Jordan, 464,000 in Turkey and 200,000 in Iraq. Egypt is hosting an additional 111,000 Syrian refugees. The real figures are believed to be higher still as not all people register with UNHCR. The impact on these countries has been profound:

In Lebanon, the economic and social repercussions with over one million Syrians present are devastating and create huge pressures on the local populations. The number of Syrians currently registered as refugees or pending registration is equal to more than 18 per cent of the country's population, with groups of refugees scattered across 1,400 localities. The impact is alarming, particularly on the delicate demographic structures, with serious security implications. Health, education, and water and sanitation systems have all exceeded their capacities.

In Jordan, despite limited resources, a strained economy and overstretched services and infrastructure, the Syrian refugee influx has swollen the population size by 11 per cent, with 140,000 in camps. the overwhelming majority (480,000) of Syrians are in Jordanian cities and villages. This increase has constituted an enormous pressure on Jordanian resources, services and infrastructure and it must be kept in mind that a sudden increase in a population by 11 per cent constitutes a serious security threat for any country. The cost of hosting refugees in 2013 solely in relation to electricity, water, education, health, municipalities, subsidised goods, and protection and reception, has now reached $2.016 billion.

In Iraq, already contending with security problems and large-scale internal displacement of around one million people before the Syria crisis began, the 160,000-strong Syrian refugee population has been swollen further by the recent influx of more than 40,000 people from areas of conflict in north and northeast Syria. As well as those in camps, thousands of these refugees are living among the local population in situations that will become economically unsustainable without more help.

In Turkey, the government has responded to the Syrian refugee influx with US$2 billion in support. Refugees are spread across 21 camps where they receive shelter, health care, security and other services. Almost a quarter of a million Syrians are already documented living outside of camps in urban locations, with many more pending registration.

UNHCR's Executive Committee meeting on 30 September will bring together ministerial delegations from UN member states, heads of UN agencies and development actors, as well as international financial institutions and NGOs. Planning for the humanitarian aspects of the Syria situation has to date been done on the basis of periodically updated inter-agency response plans the most recent iteration of which was a $4.4 billion appeal launched in June some $3 billion of which was to meet humanitarian and host community needs this year in the immediate surrounding region.

As of end August, the component of this appeal that deals with the surrounding region was approximately 40 per cent funded.

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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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