Top UNHCR official calls for safe passage for uprooted Syrians

News Stories, 4 December 2012

© UNHCR/B.Sokol
UNHCR protection official Erika Feller visited Za'atri camp, where preparations for winter are well under way. These men are carrying metal sheeting to provide a covered area for cooking.

ZA'ATRI CAMP, Jordan, December 4 (UNHCR) Top UNHCR protection official Erika Feller has visited refugees in Jordan's Za'atri refugee camp and noted that innocent civilians were the prime victims of the conflict in Syria.

On her second mission to the region in less than a month, the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection met refugees who had recently made it to safety in Jordan. Many were elderly, including one woman who had undergone open-heart surgery. Several were clearly traumatized.

Feller said the conflict was disproportionately affecting civilians at least 2.5 million of them and called on both sides to ensure that those who have fled their homes throughout the country were able to reach safety. In some areas, insecurity has reached to the country's borders, making escape to neighbouring states especially perilous.

As UNHCR's senior refugee protection official, Feller reviewed reception arrangements at Za'atri, which as of this week has received more than 60,000 Syrian refugees since it opened four months ago. Many have since moved on, some into the local community and others back to Syria. Za'atri currently has about 32,000 residents.

"Preparations for winter are well under way in the camp, where overnight temperatures are now dropping to 1 degree Celsius," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said. Tents are being reinforced and better insulated to protect against the weather, including the addition of "porches" where gas heaters are being placed. "Some 30,000 thermal blankets are being distributed, along with winter clothing," he added.

A storm drainage system is being built and a layer of crushed rock spread throughout the camp to channel water away from shelters and prevent mud and standing water. In addition, more than 1,300 prefabricated shelters have been erected and another 1,300 are expected to be in place within three weeks.

"As this work continues, we have recently heard erroneous reports that refugee children have died at the camp because of the cold. This is incorrect," the UNHCR spokesman stressed.

He added that there had been four infant deaths due to other medical conditions since November 23, but not because of the weather. Medical reports indicate that two of the infants had congenital defects one of the oesophagus, and the other of the heart. Two other infants died as a result of acute diarrhoea.

Region wide, the number of Syrians registered or awaiting registration now stands at 475,280. This comprises 138,889 in Jordan, 133,895 in Lebanon, 130,449 in Turkey, 60,307 in Iraq, and 11,740 in North Africa.

In addition, governments in the region estimate there are several hundred thousand more Syrians who have not yet come forward for registration. More of these people are expected to seek registration in the coming months as their resources dwindle.

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2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

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