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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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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