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Syria situation regional update

Briefing Notes, 13 November 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 13 November 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Syria, UNHCR is progressing in major effort to provide aid to up to 500,000 people by the end of this year despite recent disruptions to operations due to insecurity.

To date, UNHCR family aid packages have been provided to some 59,000 families (295,000 people). The emergency packages contain non-food humanitarian supplies ranging from blankets and clothing to cooking kits and jerry cans. These are aimed at helping families meet basic needs during the coming winter.

Unfortunately, recent deliveries have been very difficult. Last week, humanitarian operations were disrupted on at least two days in Damascus because of insecurity. Similar difficulties were experienced by staff working in Aleppo, and we are temporarily withdrawing staff from north-eastern Hassakeh governorate. Insecurity over the past few weeks has also resulted in loss of aid supplies, including some 13,000 blankets that burned in a Syrian Arab Red Crescent warehouse in Aleppo that was apparently hit by a shell. In addition, a truck carrying 600 blankets was hijacked on its way to Adra, outside Damascus.

Nevertheless, progress has been made. Yesterday, we were able to deliver nearly 5,000 mattresses and 500 hygiene kits to Aleppo, Hassakeh and Adra. We also continue with the provision of education materials and cash assistance for families. In Hassakeh, 10,500 displaced children have received individual school kits. And cash assistance of $150 per family has been provided to nearly 12,100 displaced families in Al Nabek (rural Damascus) and in Hassakeh Governorate.

UNHCR has some 350 staff in Syria, working in three offices Damascus, Aleppo and Hassakeh. Up to 2.5 million Syrians are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance.

REGIONALLY: The number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration throughout the surrounding region has now surpassed 407,000 and continues to climb. There are tens of thousands more Syrians around the region who have not registered. Many are expected to come forward for registration and assistance in the coming weeks as winter sets in and their resources run out.

TURKEY: The past week saw increasing arrivals in Turkey, Jordan and northern Iraq. Many of the estimated 8,000 to 9,000 Syrians reported to have entered Turkey overnight last Thursday around the Ceylanpinar border crossing are now staying with relatives, have moved into camps, or have returned to Syria after the fighting reportedly subsided. As of November 10th, an estimated 115,000 Syrians were in 14 government-run camps in Turkey, with another 60-70,000 believed to be living on the local economy. Numbers crossing the border have fallen since late last week, with 2,340 arriving between Saturday and yesterday and 1,363 returning to Syria.

JORDAN: For the week ending November 10th, Jordan received 4,045 new arrivals, the highest weekly total since September 1st. Last Thursday (November 8th) also saw the highest daily number of arrivals in two months 879. The number of refugees registered or awaiting registration in Jordan now stands at more than 116,000, more than 70 percent living on the local economy.

The Za'atri refugee camp north of Amman experienced its first heavy rains of the season over the weekend. According to our staff, there was only minor disruption with 38 tents being moved from flooded areas, and two tents replaced due to damage.

UNHCR engineers and site planners are working with the refugees to improve conditions at Za'atri, including advising on drainage techniques now that the rainy season is here. Tools and coarse rock were provided yesterday to those whose tents are in low lying areas. Rock has already been spread throughout the camp as part of efforts to reduce dust in the dry season and improve drainage in the rainy months. This ongoing work was temporarily disrupted by the rain, which prevented heavy trucks from entering soft areas. Other winter preparations are also continuing in the camp. In the next week, work will begin on providing "porches" and strengthening of the tents to offer better protection against the winter cold. Heaters and other winter supplies are also being provided.

IRAQ: The Kurdistan region of northern Iraq also saw an increase in new refugees for the week up to November 7th with 3,171 Syrian arrivals predominantly Syrian Kurds. Nearly 1,500 more were registered between Thursday and Sunday. The number of Syrian refugees in Iraq is now more than 50,000, including over 42,000 in the Kurdistan Region (Erbil, Suleimaniya, Duhok) and another 8,400 in Anbar and other governorates to the south.

LEBANON: While the influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon remains stable, UNHCR is stepping up its efforts to register refugees in need. In the north and south of Lebanon, we continue to register refugees at our centralized registration premises, while also using mobile registration teams to reach those who cannot reach the established centers. In the Bekaa, mobile registration was concluded in Al-Qaa targeting refugees settled in Hermel, Fakeha, Jdeideh, and Al-Qaa. Over 6,000 people were registered in a single week, bringing the number of registered and waiting to be registered refugees in Lebanon to 118,633.

A recent positive development was the Lebanese government's announcement to waive visa renewal fees for Syrian refugees, but the government has also expressed its hope that the international community would help to cover the lost revenue associated with those fees. UNHCR is liaising with the government to ensure that this new policy is implemented throughout the country.

With temperatures now dropping in the mountainous north and Bekaa valley, UNHCR, UNICEF, the World Food Programme, Danish Refugee Council, World Vision, Caritas Migrant Center and Makhzoumi Foundation have focused distribution efforts on providing winter items such as mattresses, blankets and winter clothes. UNHCR, UNICEF and Save the Children also selected 35 schools around Lebanon who received fuel vouchers to help warm schools during winter.

Shelter is still a pressing priority in that regard. Efforts are continuing to rehabilitate collective shelters and host family homes; erect prefabricated houses and temporary shelters; and provide cash to landlords and to vulnerable refugees unable to pay their own rent. However, it is urgent that we strengthen these efforts in conjunction with the Government of Lebanon to improve living conditions for refugees in Lebanon, while enhancing preparedness in the case of a larger influx.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Amman (for general Syria enquires): Ron Redmond (Regional Spokesman) on mobile +962 79 982 5867
  • In Geneva: Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 9138
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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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