Three million and counting: The rising humanitarian crisis inside Syria

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

In Syria, and since the start of 2013, UNHCR has brought relief supplies to more than three million people. This includes internally displaced people and others simply vulnerable and needing help. With Syria's crisis having now passed 1000 days, the amount of aid we have been able to deliver is still nowhere near enough.

UNHCR's assistance has reached all of Syria's 14 governorates, and each week sees a further approximately 250 trucks being dispatched. We have participated in more than 40 inter-agency cross-line missions into conflict zones. Over 35 per cent of UNHCR assistance has been to displaced persons in hard-to-reach or "hot spot" areas.

Aid deliveries are managed by UNHCR and done with the support of local partners. Our recent supply efforts have focused on helping civilian populations in Aleppo and Rural Damascus, the two governorates hosting the majority of internally displaced persons. Aid has also gone to Idlib, one of the most difficult areas to reach, and Hama, where security prevented UNHCR from delivering any assistance between May and the end of November.

UNHCR has presences in most governorates, and 370 staff. The aid we send out supports families to look after their own daily needs and typically might include blankets, mattresses, sleeping mats, diapers, sanitary napkins, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, kitchen sets and hygiene kits. So far in 2013, UNHCR has procured, stored, transported and delivered over 7.3 million separate relief items working with selected local NGO partners and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).

Despite the scale of these efforts over the past months, the needs remain immense, and insecurity routinely prevents access to many areas. With an estimated 6.5 million people now internally displaced and many more in need of help, we have been working to provide additional support including healthcare (971,000 beneficiaries), legal protection and community services (155,000 beneficiaries), shelter rehabilitation (70 shelters) and financial assistance for the most vulnerable (175,000 beneficiaries). We have also been involved in the inter-agency effort led by WHO and UNICEF to vaccinate children against polio. Vaccines for 538,000 children were recently airlifted to Al Hassakeh and other hard-to-reach locations in north-eastern Syria.

Guest Speaker: Amin Awad, Director of UNHCR's Middle East and North Africa bureau.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Amman, Peter Kessler on mobile +962 79 631 79 01
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Dan McNorton on mobile +41 79 217 3011



UNHCR country pages

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.

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

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

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The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: Refugees Onward Journey

A transit centre at Vinojug, on FYR Macedonia's border with Greece is where the refugees and migrants pass through on their journey further into Europe. Here UNHCR and partner organisations provide food, water, medical care, psycho-social support and information for refugees who take the train towards the border with Serbia. UNHCR also provides information on how to access the asylum system in the country. In recent weeks, an average of 6,300 refugees pass through the camp every day, yesterday that number grew to 10,000, a record.
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Croatia: Sunday Train Arrivals

On Sunday a train of 1800 refugees and migrants made their way north from the town of Tovarnik on Croatia's Serbian border. They disembarked at Cakovec just south of Slovenia. Most of the people are Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi. Their route to Western Europe has been stalled due to the closing of Hungarian borders. Now the people have changed their path that takes through Slovenia. Croatia granted passage to over 10,000 refugees this weekend. Croatian authorities asked Slovenia to take 5000 refugees and migrants per day. Slovenia agreed to take half that number. More than a thousand of desperate people are being backed up as result, with more expected to arrive later Monday.
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Croatia; Destination Unknown