Refugee total hits 3 million as Syrians flee growing insecurity and worsening conditions

Press Releases, 29 August 2014

Syria's intensifying refugee crisis will today surpass a record three million people, amid reports of increasingly horrifying conditions inside the country cities where populations are surrounded, people are going hungry and civilians are being targeted or indiscriminately killed.

Almost half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives. One in every eight Syrians has fled across the border, fully a million people more than a year ago. A further 6.5 million are displaced within Syria. Over half of those uprooted are children.

UNHCR and other aid agencies say increasing numbers of families are arriving in a shocking state, exhausted, scared and with their savings depleted. Most have been on the run for a year or more, fleeing from village to village before taking the final decision to leave.

There are worrying signs too that the journey out of Syria is becoming tougher, with many people forced to pay bribes at armed checkpoints proliferating along the borders. Refugees crossing the desert into eastern Jordan are being forced to pay smugglers hefty sums (ranging from $100 per person or more) to take them to safety.

The vast majority remain in countries neighboring Syria, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (1.14 million), Jordan (608,000) and Turkey (815,000). In addition to the three million registered refugees, governments estimate hundreds of thousands more Syrians have sought sanctuary in their countries. This has led to an enormous strain on their economies, infrastructures and resources. More than four in five refugees are struggling to make a living in towns and cities outside of camps, with 38 per cent living in sub-standard shelter, according to a recent survey.

Syrians are now the world's largest refugee population under UNHCR care, second only in number to the decades-long Palestinian crisis. The Syria operation is now the largest in UNHCR's 64-year history.

"The Syrian crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them," said António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"The response to the Syrian crisis has been generous, but the bitter truth is that it falls far short of what's needed," said Guterres.

A recent upsurge in fighting appears to be worsening an already desperate situation. As frontlines shift, new areas are emptying out. Recent arrivals to Jordan, for example, are running from attacks in the areas of Raqaa and Aleppo.

UNHCR is also deeply concerned for the wellbeing of several hundred Syrians trapped inside the Al Obaidy refugee camp in Al Qa'im, Iraq, after UN agencies and international NGOs were forced to abandon their offices and warehouses. UNHCR says national partners are continuing to provide supplies and maintenance, but the situation is volatile.

Many newly arriving refugees say they only left Syria as a last resort. A growing number, including more than half of those coming to Lebanon, have moved at least once before fleeing, and one in ten have moved more than three times. One woman told UNHCR she moved no fewer than 20 times before finally crossing into Lebanon.

In addition to worsening security, the latest refugees report increasing difficulty in finding work, skyrocketing food and commodity prices, and failing services. A packet of bread in one village near the city of Idlib costs ten times more this year than last, according to a new arrival in Jordan.

A growing share of recent arrivals up to 15% in Jordan, for example are suffering from long term medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and left because they were no longer able to get adequate care at home.

UNHCR is working with 150 other agencies and groups, together with the governments of neighbouring countries, to help refugees pay the rent, and get food, education and medical care, as well as giving basic goods such as tents, mattresses and plastic sheeting.

In the past year alone, 1.7 million refugees received food aid, 350,000 children were enrolled in school, and shelter in camps was provided for more than 400,000 refugees. Since the beginning of the crisis in 2011, UNHCR has registered refugees faster than at any time in its history.

Donors have contributed more than USD 4.1 billion to successive regional response plans since 2012. However, more than 2 billion more is needed by the end of this year alone to meet the urgent needs of refugees. Most urgently, more than 2.4 million people are expected to need support in the coming weeks to prepare for next winter.

Additional Information (links may not function unless copied and pasted into a browser)

Data and other information on the Syrian refugee crisis can be found at http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php, which is updated daily.

Multimedia materials accompanying this press release, including video b-roll, photos, and infographics are available at http://www.unhcr.org/syria3million.

The following UNHCR spokespersons in Geneva and in countries neighbouring Syria are available in connection with this release (additional media contacts can be found at http://www.unhcr.org/4a09806215.html):

Geneva

  • Melissa Fleming, mobile +41 79 557 9122
  • Adrian Edwards, mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Dan McNorton, mobile: +41 79 217 3011

Beirut

  • Dana Sleiman, mobile +961 71 910 626
  • Bathoul Ahmed, mobile +962 790 224 281

Amman

  • Helene Daubelcour, mobile +962 79 889 1307

Ankara

  • Selin Unal, mobile +90 530 282 7862

Iraq

  • Ned Colt, mobile +964 780 917 4173

Abu Dhabi

  • Mohammed Abu Asaker, mobile +971 50 621 355
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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

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