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Violence and threats force over ten thousand Iraqis home, Syrian refugees continue to flee to neighbouring countries

Briefing notes

Violence and threats force over ten thousand Iraqis home, Syrian refugees continue to flee to neighbouring countries

24 July 2012

The violence in Syria has prompted over ten thousand Iraqi refugees to return home since Wednesday last week. Many of the returnees have expressed their fear regarding the ongoing risks to their safety in Iraq, but said that they felt they had little choice, given the security threats in Syria.

UNHCR has increased the numbers of staff manning hotlines in Syria, with the hotlines overloaded with calls from refugees asking for help and advice. Based on calls to the hotline we have heard that refugees are running short of food and basic needs, including cooking gas. There is a need for medical care with many clinics closed. Many refugees report continued fear for their safety, particularly the women and children.

Thousands of Iraqi refugees have had to relocate from the Damascus suburb of Seida Zeinab to other suburbs. Some cited direct threats to their safety, while others expressed a fear of being caught up in the violence.

The Iraqi Government is supporting the return of Iraqi refugees with dedicated flights. In addition, UNHCR is working with its regular transport company to increase return capacity for Iraqi refugees. Over 13,000 Iraqis left Syria in the first half of 2012, the large majority returning to Iraq.

For the remaining refugee population, UNHCR is offering financial assistance so families can stockpile essential items as it is clear that people need to prepare themselves in the event that access to services and shops is interrupted.

Thousands of Syrians in Damascus have fled their homes for safer areas, with 58 schools now hosting Syrian families, as well as a number of parks becoming makeshift camps. Some of these people are displaced for a second time, having fled Homs governorate for Damascus several months ago. UNHCR's key national partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, has helped to deliver thousands of blankets, mattresses and essential household items to these areas in the past few days.

UNHCR welcomes the announcement by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki, that Syrians fleeing the violence will be allowed free access to cross into Iraq. Over 7,500 Syrians are registered in Iraq, with around 500 awaiting registration. The majority are living in the Kurdistan region. The camp near Dohuk, Domiz, is currently housing around a third of the refugee population.

The Lebanese government maintains open borders for Syrian refugees. UNHCR estimates that last week 18,000 people crossed into Lebanon between Wednesday and Thursday. The numbers decreased over the weekend, with those entering from Syria (most from Damascus or Homs) largely being matched by those returning.

Monday witnessed another increase of approximately 6,000 new arrivals through the Masna border crossing. According to interviews UNHCR carried out with new arrivals, the majority have come to Lebanon expecting to stay for several weeks and return when calm returns to Damascus or Homs.

While a small number of those who have recently arrived remained in the Bekaa Valley, most continued to other areas. Many are believed to be staying in hotels and rented apartments in Beirut and other parts of the country.

To date UNHCR has registered some 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, with 2,500 awaiting registration. It is unlikely that all of the new arrivals of last week will register with UNHCR immediately. In general, those that need assistance are the first to come forward to be registered. Based on preliminary assessments, relatively few of the most recent arrivals are in need of humanitarian assistance at this stage.

In Jordan, close to 36,000 Syrian refugees are registered, with a further 2,500 awaiting registration. According to the authorities, there are tens of thousands of Syrians who have not yet come forward for registration in the country.

Yesterday, transit facilities designed for around 2,000 people were packed with 6,000 people. Overnight over 1,200 Syrians crossed into Jordan, mostly from Daraa. Thousands are due to be moved to the new camp at Za'atri. The camp capacity will be increased depending on the pace of new arrivals.

In Turkey the number of Syrian refugees now stands at over 44,000. The Turkish authorities are constructing two new camps to increase the capacity of the camps by a minimum of 20,000 people. Significant numbers of Syrian Turkmen have arrived in the past week.

UNHCR is grateful that Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey maintain open borders and that Syrian refugees are being welcomed. With the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria resulting in increased numbers of refugees, funds are urgently needed so humanitarian actors can continue to respond and deliver urgently needed lifesaving humanitarian assistance in these countries. Currently the humanitarian operations supporting Syrian refugees are funded at 26 per cent of the US$192 million required.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Beirut: Dana Sleiman on mobile +961 3 827 323
  • In Amman: Ali Bibi on mobile +962-777711118
  • In Geneva: Melissa Fleming on number +41 22 557 91 22
  • Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38