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August sees big increase in Syrians arriving in southern Europe

Briefing Notes, 13 September 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 13 September 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is seeing a sharp increase in Syrians arriving by boat in southern Italy. Over the past 40 days 3,300 Syrians, of whom more than 230 were unaccompanied children, have come ashore mainly in Sicily. Some 670 of these arrivals were during the past week.

More than 30 boat arrivals have been involved. The majority have come from Egypt, although some started their journeys from Turkey. Most of the arrivals have been families with children. Several people have needed hospital treatment for dehydration, and there have been instances of people having to be airlifted directly from the boat they were traveling on.

Last week a nurse, from Damascus, died as she crossed with her husband and children. Her husband gave permission for her liver and kidneys to be used for three patients in Italy seeking organ transplants.

UNHCR estimates that over 4,600 Syrians have arrived in Italy by sea since the beginning of 2013. A full two thirds of these arrivals have been in August.

Syrians our staff spoke said they came mainly from Damascus, with many being Palestinian refugees born in Syria. On arrival, people are taken to reception centres. In recent months many Syrians have moved on from countries at the European Union's external borders to other parts of Europe.

According to our figures as of 6 September 21,870 people have arrived in southern Italy so far in 2013. This is a significant increase on levels in 2012 when 7,981 people arrived. The main nationalities have been Eritreans 5,778 (594 in 2012), Somalis 2,571 (1,280 in 2012) and now Syrians 3,970 (369 in 2012).

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Thousands of desperate Syrian refugees seek safety in Turkey after outbreak of fresh fighting

Renewed fighting in northern Syria since June 3 has sent a further 23,135 refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey's southern Sanliurfa province. Some 70 per cent of these are women and children, according to information received by UNHCR this week.

Most of the new arrivals are Syrians escaping fighting between rival military forces in and around the key border town of Tel Abyad, which faces Akcakale across the border. They join some 1.77 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.

However, the influx also includes so far 2,183 Iraqis from the cities of Mosul, Ramadi and Falujjah.

According to UNHCR field staff most of the refugees are exhausted and arrive carrying just a few belongings. Some have walked for days. In recent days, people have fled directly to Akcakale to escape fighting in Tel Abyad which is currently reported to be calm.

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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.

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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.

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