Syria Crisis: UNHCR welcomes planned humanitarian operations centre in Jordan

News Stories, 17 December 2012

© UNHCR/S.Malkawi
Syrian refugees wait to register in Jordan after crossing the order.

AMMAN, Jordan, December 17 (UNHCR) Warning of difficult months ahead, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has announced the creation of a joint Jordanian-United Nations operations centre further strengthen coordination of the humanitarian response to a growing crisis that could see more than 1 million Syrian refugees in surrounding countries by mid-2013. Jordan alone estimates it already has 250,000 Syrians who have fled during the 20-month conflict.

Speaking to reporters at the conclusion of a two-day joint mission to Lebanon and Jordan with European Union Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, Guterres described the establishment of the operations centre as "a quantum leap in our common coordination." The plan was agreed Sunday in a meeting called by the Jordanian Foreign Ministry and attended by several UN agencies, partners and donors.

Headed by a Jordanian government official, with UNHCR's Jordan representative as deputy head, the new centre will enable coordinated planning and logistics, improved information exchange and better analysis of overall financial requirements to meet the needs of Syrian refugees in Jordan.

It will enhance contingency planning between the government and several UN agencies and partners, including UNHCR, the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), and ensure that aid stockpiles to meet the projected needs are prepared and pre-positioned.

Guterres also noted that UNHCR and its partners will unveil a new regional response plan for the Syrian refugee situation on Wednesday in Geneva. The plan will cover the programmes of 52 humanitarian agencies and NGOs involved in the Syrian refugee response in surrounding countries through the first six months of 2013. A similar plan for humanitarian needs inside Syria will also be announced at the meeting.

The current Regional Response Plan for the Syria refugee situation, launched in late September, called for US$488 million to cover the needs of some 710,000 refugees through the end of this year in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. To date, it is only a little over half funded.

While Guterres did not give a figure for Wednesday's new appeal, he said it would be "substantially higher" and that the planning figures for Syrian refugees in the surrounding region now ranged from 1.1 million to 1.8 million the worst case scenario by June 2013.

"We are living in a crucial moment in relation to the conflict in Syria," Guterres said. "I think it is time for the international community to understand that this is not a conflict like any other. We are witnessing brutal fighting with tragic humanitarian consequences."

He added that the conflict was "evolving in a way that makes us foresee the possibility that 2013 will be very much more dramatic than 2012. So the support to the trapped Syrians inside the country by the conflict, to the Syrians who are now refugees in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, and to the host countries in the region, needs to be very strongly enhanced in 2013."

Noting its long history of receiving first Palestinian refugees, then Iraqis and now Syrians despite enormous economic, social, and security concerns the High Commissioner praised Jordan's generosity "in a world where so many borders remain closed." He added that Jordan should be an example to the rest of the international community.

Guterres reiterated his call for more international support for humanitarian programmes both within Syria itself and in the surrounding host countries so that borders will remain open to those fleeing the violence in Syria.

There has been a spike in refugee arrivals in Jordan over the past few days, including more than 2,000 overnight Saturday-Sunday and Sunday-Monday the highest rate since September. Jordan has some 148,000 registered refugees. The government estimates there are another 100,000 who have not registered.

Region-wide, there are now some 520,000 Syrians either registered or awaiting registration as refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and North Africa. At least 200,000 more have not come forward to register, but many are expected to seek such help as winter sets in and their resources are depleted.

In addition to Sunday's Foreign Ministry meeting on establishing the joint operations centre, Guterres and Commissioner Georgieva held meetings in Amman with Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Jafaar Hassan.

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Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

After Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in Iraq in 2003, groups of refugees who had lived in the country for many years tried to leave the chaos and lawlessness that soon ensued. Hundreds of people started fleeing to the border with Jordan, including Palestinians in Baghdad and Iranian Kurds from the Al Tash refugee camp in central Iraq.

Aside from a few Palestinians with family connections inside the neighbouring country, the refugees were refused entry and free movement in Jordan. Thousands were soon stranded in the no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan or at the desert camp of Ruweished, located 60 kilometres inside Jordan.

Since 2003, Palestinians, Iranian Kurds, Iranians, Sudanese and Somalis have been living there and suffering the scorching heat and freezing winters of the Jordanian desert. UNHCR and its partners have provided housing and assistance and tried to find solutions – the agency has helped resettle more than 1,000 people in third countries. At the beginning of 2007, a total of 119 people – mostly Palestinians – remained in Ruweished camp without any immediate solution in sight.

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Non-Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

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The UN refugee agency has launched a US$60 million appeal to fund its work helping hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people. The new appeal concludes that unremitting violence in Iraq will likely mean continued mass internal and external displacement affecting much of the surrounding region. The appeal notes that the current exodus is the largest long-term population movement in the Middle East since the displacement of Palestinians following the creation of Israel in 1948.

UNHCR has warned that the longer this conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

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There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

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UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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