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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The Charcoal Boys: Child Labour in Lebanon

Bebnine is one of many small towns in northern Lebanon that have seen an influx of Syrian refugees in recent months. Many of the new residents are children, whose education has been disrupted. A lot of them must work to support their families instead of studying to lay the foundations for a bright future. This set of photographs by Andrew McConnell, documents one group of boys who risk their health by working for a charcoal seller in Bebnine. Aged between 11 and 15 years old, they earn the equivalent of less than 70 US cents an hour filling, weighing and carrying sacks of charcoal. It's hard work and after an average eight-hour day they are covered in charcoal dust. Throughout the region, an estimated one in ten Syrian refugee children is engaged in child labour.

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In the semi-rural area of Kherbet Al-Souk, on the outskirts of Amman, Syrian refugees struggling to get their children into crowded state schools have taken matters into their own hands. They have set up a simple school in their small informal settlement of about 500 refugees. The families had lived in Za'atri or Al-Aghwar camps, but moved out to be closer to other relatives and to access basic services in the capital. But ensuring education for all refugee children in Jordan has proved difficult for the government and its partners, including UNHCR. According to the UN, more than half of all Syrian refugee children in Jordan are not in school. In Kherbet Al-Souk, the refugee-run school consists of a large tent where the students sit on the ground with their text books. All of the students take classes together with the younger children in the front. Before, they spent a lot of time playing, but they were not learning anything. One refugee, Jamal, decided to do something about it. Photographer Shawn Baldwin met Jamal and visited the school in a tent. These are some of the images he took.

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They are everywhere in Lebanon - 1 million Syrian refugees, in a land of 4.8 million people. There are no refugee camps in Lebanon. Instead, most rent apartments and others live in makeshift shelters and in garages, factories and prisons. Three years after the Syria crisis began, Lebanon has become the country with the highest concentration per capita of refugees in the world. It's struggling to keep pace with the influx. Rents have spiked, accommodation is scarce; food prices are rising. Meanwhile, a generation could be lost. Half of Syria's refugees are children; most don't go to school. Instead many of them work to help their families survive. Some marry early, others must beg to make a bit of money. Yet they share the same dream of getting an education.

In the northern city of Tripoli, many of the Syrians live in Al Tanak district, dubbed "Tin City." Long home to poor locals, it is now a surreal suburb - garbage piled to one side, a Ferris wheel on the other. The inhabitants share their dwellings with rats. "They're as big as cats," said one. "They're not scared of us, we're scared of them."

Award-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario visited Tin City and other areas of Lebanon with UNHCR to show the faces and suffering of Syrians to the world. Addario, in publications such as The New York Times and National Geographic, has highlighted the victims of conflict and rights abuse around the world, particularly women.

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