107 Syrian refugees to depart Lebanon for temporary relocation in Germany

Briefing Notes, 10 September 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 10 September 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Tomorrow, Wednesday 10 September, 107 highly vulnerable Syrian refugees are due to leave Lebanon under a temporary Humanitarian Admissions Programme that was announced by Germany in March of this year. The group is headed for Hannover, and is the first to be assisted by UNHCR in this process.

On arrival the refugees are being transferred to an accommodation centre in Friedland in Lower Saxony where they will stay for fourteen days. The refugees will be offered cultural orientation courses basic language training and basic information on Germany, including the school and health systems, as well as help in interacting with the local authorities.

At the end of the two week period, the refugees will leave for locations across Germany. They will be accommodated in small centres or apartments and will have full access to medical, educational and other social services. During their stay the refugees have the right to work. The residence permit issued for these refugees is for two years, with the option to extend if the situation in Syria remains unchanged.

Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme provides for up to 5,000 places for Syrian refugees, and as such is the biggest relocation programme currently in existence for the Syria crisis. UNHCR teams in the Syria region are currently preparing additional referrals for this programme, which we expect to be fully subscribed by the end of 2013. The International Organization for Migration is involved with us in organizing travel, pre-medical checks, and other support.

Resettlement of refugees, whether formal resettlement or expedited relocation as is the case with Germany's Humanitarian Admissions Programme is a vital and potentially life-saving tool for helping particularly vulnerable refugees. Those resettled may be women and girls at risk, people with serious medical conditions, survivors of torture or others with special needs.

UNHCR announced in June of this year, in its 2013 Syria Regional Response Plan, that it was seeking 10,000 places for humanitarian admission and 2,000 places for resettlement of Syrians in acute need. Since then Germany and Austria have committed places for humanitarian admission (5,000 and 500 respectively) whereas a number of other countries have come forward with offers of resettlement places. These include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Together these countries have pledged more than 1,650 resettlement places, 960 of which are for 2013. The United States of America has indicated that it is willing to consider an additional unspecified number of cases.

UNHCR is continuing to urge States to come forward with further offers of resettlement or relocation. In particular, and because of the growing size of the Syria refugee population in countries neighbouring Syria, we hope to see countries offering places outside their current annual quotas and allowing for expedited processing. This would help meet the needs of highly vulnerable Syrians, and it would ensure that resettlement opportunities remain available for highly vulnerable refugees from other countries.

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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

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

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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