UNHCR mourns death of seven Syrian refugees killed in Jordan fire

News Stories, 17 January 2013

© UNHCR/S.Malkawi
A Syrian refugee prepares coffee in housing near the Jordanian town of Ramtha. Wednesday's tragic fire took place near Ramtha.

GENEVA, January 17 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency today expressed its sadness at the death of seven Syrian refugees in a fire at a transit centre in the Jordanian border town of Ramtha. Six of the dead were children.

A UNHCR press release from Geneva said the victims were all members of the same family and were sleeping in prefabricated housing when it was engulfed by fire on Wednesday night. Four survivors were rushed from the King Abdullah Park transit centre to the nearest hospital, where they are being treated for burns and smoke inhalation.

"Initial investigations by the local authorities indicate that the fire was started by a kerosene heater," said the statement, which added that the King Abdullah Park transit centre hosts more than 900 Syrian refugees, all staying in prefabricated shelters.

"These deaths are heartbreaking for the humanitarian community in Jordan. The loss of children was particularly tragic," the press release said.

UNHCR and its partners in Jordan have regular fire-awareness campaigns in all transit camps in Jordan, as well as at the main camp at Za'atri. Jordan is hosting more than 185,000 Syrians registered as refugees or waiting to be registered. Some 58,000 of them, or about a third, are living in camps.

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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

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

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.

The US$60 million will cover UNHCR's protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non-Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within Iraq itself.

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UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

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.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

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

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