Statement by António Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to the United Nations Security Council
30 August 2012
Mr. President, Mr. Deputy Secretary-General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Syria has a long and generous history of providing refuge to people in need of sanctuary, including Palestinian and Iraqi refugees. It is now particularly heartbreaking to see so many Syrian citizens losing their lives, uprooted from their homes, or trapped in war zones.
As of yesterday, 229,000 people had left the country and sought registration as refugees in neighboring states. Their number is rapidly growing.
Household assets are quickly being used up. Social support networks are fragmenting. For many, becoming a refugee is the only way to survive.
The number of Syrians arriving each day in Turkey continues to increase dramatically. Thanks to the Turkish government, more than 80,000 Syrians are now hosted in camps and public buildings in the south-east of the country.
As the fighting intensifies, pressure is increasing at border checkpoints, with thousands of people waiting as new sites are made ready. These will bring the country's total camp capacity to more than 130,000.
In Jordan, the number of refugees arriving each day is also rising. Earlier this week, more than 5,000 people arrived in the space of just 30 hours.
Some 72,000 Syrian refugees have now been recorded. In total, the government estimates that there are now 180,000 more Syrians in the country than at the outset of the crisis.
Most are hosted with by local communities. In accordance with a decision of the authorities, over 21,000 recent arrivals are being accommodated at the newly established Zaatri refugee camp.
The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon registered or awaiting registration now exceeds 57,000. They have largely been absorbed into local communities, along with many thousands more who have not yet sought assistance.
Efforts are under way with the government to expand accommodation options, as hosting families are stretched and schools where many hundreds have been sheltered are due to reopen shortly.
In Iraq, a country striving to make its own transition from conflict to stability, the number of Syrian refugees is now more than 18,000.
In these four countries, there has been exemplary cooperation between governments, UNHCR, other UN agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and NGOs.
Smaller numbers of Syrian citizens have also sought protection beyond the region, in areas such as North Africa and Europe. I am deeply saddened by the drowning of a number of Syrians, including children, earlier this week in the Mediterranean.
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The most tragic consequences of the crisis are being felt inside Syria itself.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent Society, supported by the UN system and other humanitarian actors, continues to undertake exceptional work in the most difficult of circumstances, despite being considerably overstretched. Humanitarian activities are, as was noted already, severely hampered by constraints on access and funding.
UNHCR persists with efforts to provide protection and assistance to Iraqi and other refugees and asylum-seekers in Syria. The commitment of the Syrian people and authorities to maintaining asylum space has been commendable.
Refugees are nonetheless exposed to increasing insecurity, which also limits their access to our offices and restricts the movement of staff. Some 31,000 Iraqis have now returned to their own country since the surge in violence in mid-July, while migrant workers and other third country nationals are also experiencing acute hardship.
Refugees from Palestine in Syria fall within the mandate of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Our colleagues at UNRWA need funding to expand their assistance program, and are very appreciative of the temporary protection afforded in neighboring countries to the relatively few who have been forced to flee.
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The refugee exodus is having a significant impact on the society, economy and security of host countries.
Thousands of Iraqi, Jordanian, Lebanese, and Turkish families are sharing their homes and their increasingly meager resources with relatives and friends, but mostly strangers, who have been rendered homeless.
The large-scale arrival of refugees brings a significant economic cost, leads to complex social consequences, and has a serious impact on local infrastructure and the environment. The acute pressure on water resources in Jordan is just one example.
All this takes place in countries also affected by the national security implications of the current crisis.
By keeping their borders open to refugees in such a complex and challenging environment, the countries which neighbor Syria are providing a very positive example to the world. But their capacities are being severely tested. International solidarity in support of their generosity must be urgently reinforced.
The commitment of those countries to refugee protection has upheld the internationally recognized principle whereby all human beings have the right to seek and enjoy asylum in another state.
This is a right that must not be jeopardized, for instance through the establishment of so-called 'safe havens' or other similar arrangements. Bitter experience has shown that it is rarely possible to provide effective protection and security in such areas.
But evidently, more effective humanitarian assistance inside Syria might well reduce the numbers forced to flee across borders.
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As the conflict intensifies, the ability of the international system to respond is being tested in many ways.
In this respect, I would like to end in making the following appeals.
First, to all parties to the conflict, to grant unrestricted humanitarian access inside Syria in order to enable humanitarian actors to deliver protection and assistance without discrimination, in accordance with humanitarian principles.
Second, I would like to appeal to the parties to the conflict to continue to respect and provide protection to Iraqi, Palestinian and other refugees inside Syria.
We are all aware of the complexity of the Palestinian refugee issue, and its impact on countries in the region. A situation in which large numbers of Palestinians are forced to flee must be avoided at all cost.
Third, I would like to call for enhanced international support to all victims of the conflict. I urge all states to respond positively to the two appeals that will shortly be made by the humanitarian community for additional funding in countries of asylum and inside Syria.
But direct support to the victims is not enough. International solidarity must translate into effective burden-sharing and responsibility sharing with meaningful support to governments and communities in refugee-hosting countries.
Fourth, I ask all states in the region and beyond to continue to extend protection to the Syrians fleeing their country, and to ensure that the civilian and humanitarian character of asylum is maintained, in accordance with international law.
Finally, we must recognize that there is no humanitarian solution to the Syrian crisis. Only through a political solution leading to peace can the humanitarian emergency be brought to a conclusion.
As history has so clearly demonstrated in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is in nobody's interest for a political conflict and the plight of its resultant refugee population to be left unresolved.
Thank you very much.