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Member State briefing on the Syria crisis

Speeches and statements

Member State briefing on the Syria crisis

23 February 2018
Statement by Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the 2018 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thanks for coming. As you have just heard from the analysis of the situation by UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, we have entered yet another complex phase of the conflict – very brutal on civilians, and also quite complicated from the point of view of prospects for solutions. These are all important factors in determining what refugees will decide to do in the future.

I won’t repeat what Mark said, which I agree with. I would move the discussion to the displacement dimension. Of course, the situation in Syria, as analysed by the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, means that we have seen in the last few months new waves of internal displacement. We have also seen people going back to their homes in some parts of the country which are more stable. So, a fairly dynamic situation.

In terms of new displacement, one should not forget that it is almost impossible for people to cross Syria’s borders – as compared to the past, when it was not that difficult. But now, it has become almost impossible. This is part of a broader issue of border management that goes well beyond the Syrian borders. It goes all the way to Europe. So that means that people have to seek safety inside the country when the situation becomes dangerous for them.

And, as a further consequence, for those among the 5.5 million refugees who are thinking about their future, making a decision to return becomes more difficult in the context that has been described.

We have seen in 2017 some refugee returns. But when I say some, the ones that we are aware of are less than 80,000 out of a population of 5.5 million refugees. This is a very small number.

They’ve gone back to Aleppo, to Homs, to Al Hasakah, to Damascus, to Dera, to wherever they thought it was safe enough to go back to. But it was a very small number of people that made that decision.

The vast majority of refugees, and I’m just back from Jordan and Turkey, where I had the opportunity of meeting many of them, they still tell you that return is a preferred option. That’s the preferred solution for all of them, to go back home.

But all intention surveys show how they, almost overwhelmingly say: “Not right now, we need to wait till the situation stabilizes further”. They cite large scale destruction, ongoing violence and also the lack of a political solution.

Our position is that we must remain ready for a movement of return, and we are working on that. I think this is very important given the dynamic situation. But, most importantly, and I think this is the key message that the Emergency Relief Coordinator also underlined – we must continue and step up our support to the countries that have been generously hosting Syrian refugees now for more than six years, entering the seventh year of this massive solidarity and hospitality exercise.

Let me just mention my impression from my visits to Jordan and Turkey – and I will also visit Lebanon soon again – is that the strain continues. It is in all areas. It is on infrastructure, it is on housing, it is on services and all countries are facing other challenges for their own nationals. So, supporting them continues to be a very high priority, should be a high priority for everybody.

One way to help the host countries is to support the appeal that we are presenting to you today, the 3RP. Achim Steiner, the UNDP administrator will talk more about the resilience aspect of this appeal, but let me give you some general points.

First of all, I think that we need to look back at some of the achievements that a string of similar appeals have made possible. In total we estimate 270 organizations have participated in these appeals – UN organizations, NGOs and other partners. These appeals were able to raise USD12.8 billion since 2012. This is not enough, we know that, but this is a considerable injection of resources that must continue.

Through cash and food operations WFP, UNHCR and many other organizations have been able to reach 2 million beneficiaries in 2017 – and this has been supported, as you know, by effective biometrics registration technology. So, there are some considerable achievements.

But, more children need to get into school. Some 1.2 million children were supported to access education since 2012. Some 5,000 classrooms have been built or rehabilitated, some 1,500 health facilities have received support, and the list is long.

So, there have been achievements. I say this because the situation is difficult. We have heard it, we know it. But, I think one should not dismiss these channels through which we can help Syrians as not useful. They are useful and have an impact.

Of course, the gaps are still huge and some were already mentioned, but let me give an example – in one country, 58 per cent of the refugee households live below the extreme poverty line – below USD 3 per day. So that’s a very significant figure.

40% of the refugee children across the region continue to be out of school. Although there has been progress. I was in Turkey, for example, and I must say thanks largely to the Turkish government action and resources, the percentage of children going to school has increased considerably. I think it’s 62 per cent. On my last visit this was below 50 per cent. So there has been improvement.

I visited in Jordan very interesting projects through which refugees have access to employment. But it’s still only a fraction of refugees who benefit from that.

So it’s still important to support the 3RP appeal.

This document today, appeals for support of up to $4.4 billion to assist nine million people: the five and a half million refugees and the local communities. I trust that UNDP will speak about that.

But I would like to also say that the resilience component that UNDP is leading on is extremely important, as important as the humanitarian component, because if the crisis continues to prolong itself, it’s important to build the resilience of people.

At the same time, I would like to make a strong pitch for the humanitarian component to continue to be supported as well. There are problems the refugees are facing which are very much humanitarian in nature, and there is a whole aspect of protection which were working on in coordination with governments which are also important.

Think of the impact of this crisis on women, on women refugees: early marriage, exposure to trafficking, sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation. These are still very strong phenomena.

I met refugee women in Istanbul, a city that alone hosts more than half a million Syrians – half a million Syrians in one city, it’s a big city but still, it’s a high percentage. And, obviously for women it’s particularly difficult to cope in an urban situation. Remember that the vast majority of refugees in this region are not in camps as we sometimes imagine or think instinctively, but they’re in urban centres. So they share the urban problems of the rest of the population but sometimes in a more exposed way. So I think it is important to look at that.

May I say that of course the 3RP should not be looked at in isolation.

The 3RP – the United Nations-led appeal, which includes many NGOs – is also conducted in parallel with bilateral and multilateral interventions, through the World Bank, through bilateral cooperation of many of your countries, which are equally important.

This is the approach that was crafted through many conferences – particularly at the London conference, reiterated at the Brussels conference last year – which also needs to be supported. Creation of employment, investment in infrastructure, in Lebanon for example. Investment in education. It’s important to work on all those tracks at the same time. When you talk about such a large population, and in context, I think you’ll understand why this is it’s necessary.

I have a final point to make. There is another aspect which is not financial in nature, not essentially financial. That is resettlement.

I need to sound the alarm here.

Resettlement has been over the years a solution for a certain number of refugees, but certainly not as small as in other operations. It’s actually been quite significant. There have been years in Jordan in which 25,000 people have been resettled. This makes a small dent.

It is a gesture of sharing of responsibility with the countries neighbouring Syria that have borne the bulk of this responsibility for so many years.

I’m sad to say that in 2017 we submitted 37,000 applications for resettlement from the neighbouring countries. We do this in response to the available places. This is half of what we submitted in 2016. And the signals for 2018 are not encouraging.

This is not a good signal.

Many of you will remember that soon after I became High Commissioner in March 2016 we organized a conference on resettlement in which we made certain asks.

We’re very far from having reached those targets. So I’d like to really appeal to all of you to not only contribute financially, and in that I echo UN Emergency Relief Coordinator’s appeal, but also to look at the resettlement programme.

I know there are many pressures from other situations as well; but in the spirit of this year of the Global Compact I think it’s very important to show a responsibility-sharing attitude to a better resettlement programme.

Thank you very much.