Number of Syrian refugees reaches 1 million mark

News Stories, 6 March 2013

© UNHCR/N.Daoud
A line of Syrian refugee women, some carrying children, cross into Jordan from southern Syria. The outflow this year has been staggering.

GENEVA, March 6 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency, citing data received from UNHCR's offices in the Syria region, on Wednesday announced that the number of Syrians either registered as refugees or being assisted as such has reached the 1 million mark.

"With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiralling towards full-scale disaster," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. "We are doing everything we can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched. This tragedy has to be stopped."

The number of Syrian refugees fleeing their country has increased dramatically since the beginning of the year. More than 400,000 people have become refugees since January 1, 2013. They arrive traumatized, without possessions and having lost members of their families. Around half of the refugees are children, the majority under the age of eleven. Most have fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Increasingly, Syrians are also fleeing to North Africa and Europe.

"This number translates into 1 million people who are dependent on the generosity of host countries, the response of humanitarian agencies and the financial support of governments and individuals," said Guterres.

The High Commissioner noted that the impact of this large number of refugees arriving in neighbouring countries is severe. Lebanon's population has increased by as much as 10 per cent. Jordan's energy, water, health and education services are being strained to the limit. Turkey has spent over US$600 million setting up 17 refugee camps, with more under construction. Iraq, juggling its own crisis with more than 1 million Iraqis internally displaced, has received more than 100,000 Syrian refugees in the past year.

"These countries should not only be recognized for their unstinting commitment to keeping their borders open for Syrian refugees, they should be massively supported as well," said Guterres.

© UNHCR/E.Byun
Bushra, the 1 millionth Syrian refugee, in Tripoli, Lebanon, with her children.

UNHCR named Bushra, a 19-year-old mother of two, as the symbolic 1 millionth refugee. She was registered in the coastal city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon on Wednesday. She has been living in a dilapidated two-room building in a Tripoli slum since crossing the border just over two weeks ago.

When UNHCR visited her earlier this week, she was holding her son Sleiman in the corner where they sleep at night. Her daughter Hanin, aged three, huddled close to her mother in the room they share with 12 other refugees.

Her flight to Lebanon was a desperate last measure. She moved with her children from the city of Homs, where she lived, and sought safety in several villages to avoid tanks and shelling and gangs of men whom she feared would rape or kill her and her little ones. But soon, she said, the shooting would begin, the shelling would rain down and it would be time to leave.

Before the conflict, she lived with her husband of five years and his family. He was a truck driver and was able to provide for the family. Now he is missing. "We need help," Bushra said. "We hope this will end so we can go back to our house. We need to feel peace and stability. We cannot ask for anything more."

In December, the UN's Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees estimated that 1.1 million Syrian refugees would arrive in neighbouring countries by the end of June 2013. UNHCR is in the process of adjusting this plan, in light of the new figures. Currently, the plan is only about 25 per cent funded.

Without a political solution to the conflict, Guterres said, "at a minimum, humanitarian actors should receive the funds needed to save lives and ease suffering."

The Syria crisis will be two years old next week. High Commissioner Guterres will be travelling to the region later this week to visit UNHCR operations in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

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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.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

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