UN Refugee Chief warns of dire consequences of lack of funding for Syrian refugees

Press Releases, 15 March 2013

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, today reiterated his call for governments to create special funds to support Syrian refugees and the countries that host them. He warned that unless funding for Syrian refugees comes rapidly, urgently needed support could be denied to refugees in dire need and the region could become unstable.

Speaking at a press conference in Beirut on the second anniversary of the start of the Syria conflict, Mr. Guterres said the escalation of the conflict and scale of human suffering in Syria was "staggering" and the "impact on the region unprecedented in recent decades."

He said there is a widening gap between needs and the resources available to support Syrian victims. "There is no way a gap of this magnitude can be filled with current humanitarian budgets. We are witnessing not only a humanitarian tragedy, but also a threat to international peace and security. It is a question of enlightened self-interest." He warned that if the war is not stopped, "there will be an explosion in the Middle East."

"There is a gap of US$700 million," Mr. Guterres said, noting humanitarian organizations had received only 30 per cent of funds required to cover the basic needs of more than 1.1 million refugees. He expressed his hope that funds pledged at a 30 January conference in Kuwait would materialize and be devoted to the UN humanitarian response.

Mr. Guterres also appealed to the international community to recognize the enormous strain on host governments. Lebanon, host to more than 350,000 refugees, has witnessed a 10 per cent increase in its population in a period of one year. "This conflict represents an existential threat to Lebanon," he said.

In meetings with refugees in Ketermaya, south of Beirut, and in Tripoli, Guterres heard from refugees who described the challenges they face in identifying housing and in paying high rents. A critical lack of funding is holding up innovative projects aimed at identifying new forms of shelter and renovating existing accommodation.

Refugee families told Mr. Guterres their children have been out of school for up to two years. Partners like UNICEF have remedial classes in place in some parts of Lebanon, but would like to expand further their activities to increase school enrolment and retention of children in schools.

Health experts also described the risk of diarrhoea, hepatitis A and scabies if urgently needed water and sanitation projects are not supported. Currently, UNHCR and partners are covering 85 per cent of the costs of basic health care costs of refugees attending health clinics.

"Lebanon needs massive support," he said. "It cannot do it alone."

The Regional Response Plan for Syrian Refugees, with a budget of US$1 billion, details the coordinated response of 55 NGOs and UN agencies, led by UNHCR. Launched in December 2012, the plan anticipated that up to 1.1 million Syrian refugees could flee to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt by mid-2013. This number was passed earlier this week. There are currently 1.126 million Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt, while new refugees arrive at a rate of about 8,000 a day.

Mr Guterres is on the last leg of a visit to the region. He visited Turkey and Jordan earlier in the week.

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A Face in a Million: the Struggle of Syria's Refugees in Lebanon

They are everywhere in Lebanon - 1 million Syrian refugees, in a land of 4.8 million people. There are no refugee camps in Lebanon. Instead, most rent apartments and others live in makeshift shelters and in garages, factories and prisons. Three years after the Syria crisis began, Lebanon has become the country with the highest concentration per capita of refugees in the world. It's struggling to keep pace with the influx. Rents have spiked, accommodation is scarce; food prices are rising. Meanwhile, a generation could be lost. Half of Syria's refugees are children; most don't go to school. Instead many of them work to help their families survive. Some marry early, others must beg to make a bit of money. Yet they share the same dream of getting an education.

In the northern city of Tripoli, many of the Syrians live in Al Tanak district, dubbed "Tin City." Long home to poor locals, it is now a surreal suburb - garbage piled to one side, a Ferris wheel on the other. The inhabitants share their dwellings with rats. "They're as big as cats," said one. "They're not scared of us, we're scared of them."

Award-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario visited Tin City and other areas of Lebanon with UNHCR to show the faces and suffering of Syrians to the world. Addario, in publications such as The New York Times and National Geographic, has highlighted the victims of conflict and rights abuse around the world, particularly women.

A Face in a Million: the Struggle of Syria's Refugees in Lebanon

Syria Crisis Third Anniversary: A Child of the Conflict

Ashraf was born the very day the Syria conflict began: March 15, 2011. He is the seventh child in a family from Homs. Within a week of his birth, the conflict arrived in his neighbourhood. For months his family rarely left the house. Some days there was non-stop bombing, others were eerily quiet. On the quiet days, Ashraf's mother made a run with him to the local health clinic for vaccinations and check-ups.

When Ashraf was about 18 months old, his aunt, uncle and cousin were murdered - their throats slit - as the boy slept nearby in his family's home. Terrified that they were next, Ashraf's family crammed into their car, taking a few precious belongings, and drove to the border.

They left behind their home, built by Ashraf's father and uncle. Within days the house was looted and destroyed. Photographer Andrew McConnell visited the family at their new home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, which was also built by Ashraf's father and uncle. Located on the edge of a muddy field, it is a patchwork of plastic sheeting, canvas and scrap metal. The floor is covered with blankets and mattresses from UNHCR. They now face new challenges such as the daily battle to keep the children warm, dry and protected from rats. Ashraf still starts at sudden loud noises, but the doctor told his mother that the boy would get used to it.

Syria Crisis Third Anniversary: A Child of the Conflict

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud

Mahmoud,15, hasn't been to school in 3 years. In his native Syria, his parents were afraid to send him because of the civil war. They ended up fleeing a year ago when, in the early morning hours, a bomb fell on a nearby house. The family, still groggy from being jolted awake, grabbed what they could and fled to Lebanon. Their home and the local school have since been destroyed.

In Lebanon, Mahmoud's father is unable to find work and now the family can barely afford rent.

A month ago, Mahmoud started working for tips cleaning fish at a small shop next to his home. He makes about $60 USD a month. With this money he helps pay rent on his family's tiny underground room, shared between his parents and eight brothers and sisters. Mahmoud is proud to help his family but with the fish shop located in the same subterranean structure as his home, he barely goes out into the sunshine.

Children like Mahmoud, some as young as seven, often work long hours for little pay, and in some cases in dangerous conditions. These children forfeit their future by missing out on an education and the carefree years of childhood. Many are also traumatized by what they witnessed back in Syria.

UNHCR and its partners together with local governments are providing financial assistance to help vulnerable Syrian refugee families cover expenses like rent and medical care, which means there is less need to pull children out of school and put them to work. UN agencies and their partners have also established case management and referral systems in Jordan and Lebanon to identify children at risk and refer them to the appropriate services.

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud

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