UNHCR chief addresses UN Security Council on deepening crisis in Syria

News Stories, 30 August 2012

© UN Photo/JC McIlwaine
António Guterres (right), UN High Commissioner for Refugees, addresses the Security Council's ministerial meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

NEW YORK, United States, August 30 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugee António Guterres on Thursday addressed the UN Security Council on the "dramatic and deepening humanitarian crisis" in Syria, while calling for increased international support for relief efforts.

Noting Syria's long and generous history of providing refuge to people in need of sanctuary, including Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, he said it was "now particularly heartbreaking to see so many Syrian citizens losing their lives, uprooted from their homes, and trapped in war zones."

The High Commissioner, noting that the ability of "the international system" to respond to the escalating violence in Syria was being tested in many ways, called on all parties to the conflict "to grant unrestricted humanitarian access inside Syria in order to enable humanitarian actors to deliver protection and assistance."

He also urged all parties to continue to respect and provide protection to the tens of thousands of 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," he stressed.

Guterres also called 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 he added that international support must also "translate into effective burden-sharing and meaningful support to governments and communities in refugee-hosting countries."

The High Commissioner also asked 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."

He said the commitment of neighbouring 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," he stressed, "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."

In conclusion, Guterres said there could be no humanitarian solution to the Syrian crisis. "Only through a political solution leading to peace can the humanitarian emergency be brought to a conclusion," he stressed, adding: "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."

The High Commissioner's Speech




UNHCR country pages


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UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

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The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

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Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

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