UNHCR head of protection calls for safe passage for uprooted Syrians

Briefing Notes, 4 December 2012

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 4 December 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, yesterday visited refugees in Jordan's Za'atri refugee camp and noted that innocent civilians were the prime victims of the on-going conflict in Syria.

On her second mission to the region in less than a month, Feller met refugees who had recently made it to safety in Jordan. Many were elderly, including one woman who had recently undergone open-heart surgery. Several were clearly traumatized.

Feller said the conflict was disproportionately affecting civilians at least 2.5 million of them and called on both sides to ensure that those who have fled their homes throughout the country were able to reach safety. In some areas, insecurity has reached to the country's borders, making escape to neighbouring states especially perilous.

As UNHCR's senior refugee protection official, Feller reviewed reception arrangements at Za'atri, which as of this week has received more than 60,000 Syrian refugees since it opened four months ago. Many of those 60,000 have since moved on, some into the local community and others have returned to Syria. Za'atri currently has about 32,000 residents.

Preparations for winter are well underway in the camp, where overnight temperatures are now dropping to 1 degree Celsius. Tents are being reinforced and better insulated to protect against the weather, including the addition of "porches" where gas heaters are being placed. Some 30,000 high thermal blankets are being distributed, along with winter clothing.

A storm drainage system is being built and a layer of crushed rock spread throughout the camp to channel water away from shelters and prevent mud and standing water. In addition, more than 1,300 prefabricated shelters have been erected and another 1,300 are expected to be in place within three weeks.

As this work continues, we have recently heard erroneous reports that refugee children have died at the camp because of the cold. This is incorrect. Since November 23, we have had four infant deaths due to other medical conditions, but not because of the weather. Medical reports indicate that two of the infants had congenital defects one of the oesophagus, and the other of the heart. Two other infants died as a result of serious diarrhoea. UNHCR extends its deep condolences to the parents, families and the Za'atri community. It is absolutely heart-breaking for us and for our partners who are working around the clock in the camp to try to help those who have already suffered far too much.

STATISTICS

Region wide, the number of Syrians registered or awaiting registration is now 475,280. This comprises 138,889 in Jordan, 133,895 in Lebanon, 130,449 in Turkey, 60,307 in Iraq, and 11,740 in North Africa.

In addition, governments in the region estimate there are several hundred thousand more Syrians who have not yet come forward for registration, including up to 150,000 in Egypt, 100,000 in Jordan, 70,000 in Turkey, and tens of thousands in Lebanon. More of these people are expected to seek registration in the coming months as their resources dwindle.

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