Briefing Notes, 31 July 2012
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 31 July 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
With armed violence raging in Syria's most populous city, thousands of frightened residents are seeking shelter in schools, mosques and public buildings. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and other national associations are registering about 300 displaced families a day who are in need of urgent assistance. In the 32 schools identified, between 250 and 350 people were packed inside while some 7000 people are taking refuge in university dormitories.
UNHCR's Aleppo office is severely constrained by insecurity but is continuing to liaise with SARC and other organisation to identify the needs of the most affected. The office of Damascus is sending household items to SARC Aleppo for distribution including mattresses, blankets, kitchen sets, plastic sheets, jerry cans and diapers to thousands of families.
There are estimates that some 200,000 people fled Aleppo and surrounding areas over the weekend.
UNHCR's office in Damascus is operating at 50% of its capacity due to restrictions imposed by the security environment. The office is conducting limited visits to affected areas in and around Damascus. Nine hotlines dedicated to take calls from the refugee population are operating and continue to be a key source of information gathering and dissemination in terms of protection concerns and access to services. Many callers are reporting a lack of safety; fear of ongoing shelling; lack of access to food, water and sanitation, especially in areas such as Sayyeda Zainab and families unable to leave the violent areas who are requesting help to assist in relocation. Additionally, non-Iraqi foreigners without documents phone saying they are unable to relocate and express fears of physical harm and being targeted. UNHCR's office in Hassake is fully operational.
Other UNHCR offices in Syria, in al Hassakeh and Damascus, are in operation with over 250 staff.
Growing numbers of people from Aleppo – a reported 2,000 + in the last four days – are fleeing across the Hatay border into Turkey. Many report difficulties along the route, including snipers and road blocks, which may be hindering others from making the journey.
Well over 70,000 persons have sought formal protection in Turkey since the outset of the crisis. As of 26 July, 44,188 people are currently assisted by the Government of Turkey which is managing eight camps in four different provinces, including Kilis, Gaziantep, Urfa and Hatay. Given the ongoing increase in arrivals, the Government of Turkey is planning to open two additional camps within the next three weeks, each with a capacity of 10,000 people. Additional new sites are being identified as well. As advised by authorities, the decision of Turkey to close border crossings to commercial traffic does not in any way alter the ongoing policy of open borders for those leaving Syria and requesting protection.
Meanwhile, the Jordanian government estimates that some 150,000 Syrian refugees have entered the Kingdom since March last year. 38,883 of them are receiving protection and assistance; the rest are not registered.
As the outflow from Syria continues, neighbouring Jordan on Sunday opened a new camp in record time to ease pressures on border sites hosting thousands of Syrian refugees. The camp is located in Za'atri, a windswept area in the desert close to Mafraq in northern Jordan. More than 750 refugees have so far been moved from two transit centres into the new camp. Most of the moving takes place between 9 pm and 5 am to avoid the day-time heat. The camp, which can host 10,000 refugees at the moment, will be able to accommodate up to 113,000 if required.
Until last weekend, some 10,000 Syrian refugees were living in four overcrowded transit centres near the Jordan-Syria border. An additional 1,500 are arriving every night through informal border crossings, mostly from the Da'raa governorate in southern Syria. There are reports of refugees being fired upon while trying to flee. The number of refugees from Damascus has also surged following last week's events.
Many of the refugees have been accommodated and supported by the local Jordanian community. But with the high pace of arrivals, the host communities' limited resources and fragile local infrastructure have been stretched beyond capacity.
Recognising the strain on border facilities and host families, the Jordanian authorities and local charities requested UNHCR and its partners to set up a new camp, the first since the Iraq refugee crisis started in Jordan. Work started on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan on July 20. The Jordanian government, the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organisation, Jordan Health Aid Society, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP and other partners worked tirelessly to expedite the camp's opening. With searing temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius, teams had to work at night to erect tents, install water and sanitation facilities and set up massive warehouses.
Meanwhile in Lebanon, 34,096 displaced Syrians are receiving protection and assistance through the efforts of the Government and UN and NGO partners. Of this number, 31,596 are registered. Estimates of the total number of Syrians in Lebanon as a result of unrest in Syria are much higher.
While the majority of those registered with UNHCR originate from Homs, there have been waves of recent arrivals from Damascus, Dara'a and Souwaieak. From a high of over 11,000 in less than two days, the arrivals have lessened somewhat in the past week to several hundred daily. Most of the newly arrived have not yet registered with UNHCR. Many of those interviewed proceeded to rented apartments or hotels in Beirut or Mount Lebanon. Some said they were hoping to find work in Tripoli or South Lebanon. Others report concern about finding accommodation. Most also say they hope to return to Syria in the coming weeks.
The majority of families are arriving in minivans with lots of luggage, while those returning tend to be single men who say they are returning to check on their property or for personal reasons.
UNHCR continues to work with the Lebanese authorities and partners to finalize a contingency plan in the event that larger numbers flee in the coming weeks and months. Medical care and shelter are among the most critical areas in need of further funding support."
In Iraq, numbers of Syrian refugees, mainly Kurdish, continue to increase. There are currently 12,073 refugees registered. Last week only a small number of Syrians managed to cross the borders, but this situation appears to have eased with increasing numbers crossing. UNHCR is grateful for assurances from the Iraqi government that the borders will remain open to Syrians fleeing the violence.
Numbers of Iraqi refugees opting to return home continue to increase. In the past ten days over 20,000 have returned home. In response to these unexpected returns, as well as the high numbers of Syrian refugees crossing, UNHCR is establishing transit centres at the borders with Syria to ensure that both returnees and Syrian refugees receive the assistance they need.
Increasingly, Syrians are also seeking refuge in Algeria. According to different reports there are between 10-25,000 Syrians in Algeria. However, only 70 Syrians have so far approached UNHCR office there. It is observed that many Syrians are residing in public places and schools, and might be in need of assistance. Additionally, there are some 1,305 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR office in Egypt as of July, and another 400 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR office in Morocco.
With over 129,240 Syrian refugees registered to date, the majority entirely dependent on humanitarian aid, UNHCR and partners are warning that continued lack of funding will have a profound impact on their ability to continue to respond to refugee needs.
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