UNHCR fears for safety of growing number of returning Syrian refugees

News Stories, 12 April 2013

© UNHCR/N.Daoud
A group of Syrian refugees wait in a shelter just after crossing into Jordan. UNHCR is concerned about the safety of people who return to Syria at this time.

GENEVA, April 12 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency reported on Friday that an increasing number of Syrian refugees have been opting to return home from Jordan since the start of April despite continuing conflict.

"During this period, an average of 300 people have been crossing each day, returning to villages close to the border in the governorate of Dara'a," UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told journalists in Geneva. "A sizeable part of this governorate remains a battleground and UNHCR fears for the safety of the returnees, the vast majority of whom are families," she added.

The reasons for returning are varied, including improved security in a number of border villages, safeguarding their property, reuniting with family members in Syria, or travelling to collect and bring back vulnerable family members to Jordan.

But new arrivals to Jordan continue to outpace this limited number of returns, with an average of 2,000 people crossing each day into Jordan. Every day there are wounded new arrivals. The total number of Syrian refugees who have spontaneously returned is less than 1 per cent of the total arrivals.

Although the number returning was relatively small, Fleming said UNHCR was "very concerned that refugees are returning to areas blighted by shortages of food, lack of fuel and electricity and limited services. The security situation is volatile, with reports of artillery shells and mortars being fired into villages refugees are trying to reclaim their homes and lives in."

Returnees are joining hundreds of thousands of civilians in southern Syria who have long been struggling to survive. Basic staples like bread are often in short supply, while health care and education are often unavailable. "If the conditions do not improve, it will be impossible for many to remain there," Fleming stressed.

The government estimates that the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan is expected to exceed 500,000 this month. If conditions do not improve inside Syria, the unrelenting flow of refugees fleeing to Jordan can be expected to continue.

"UNHCR does not promote or facilitate these returns, but we are counselling refugees who wish to return of the conditions they will face. We also undertake regular missions to the border," Fleming said in Geneva. UNHCR is working with the Jordanian authorities to ensure that all refugees have access to their documentation should they make the decision to return to Syria.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has monitored 3,900 returns from Iraq in the past year, mainly from Al Qaim camp in Anbar Governorate to Abu Kamal in Syria. The situation in Abu Kamal is volatile, with bombings and conflict in the province. The main reasons given by refugees for returning are lack of freedom of movement in Al Qaim, limited livelihood opportunities and encouraging reports about security.

"We are closely monitoring the situation and provide individual counselling to potential returnees to ensure they make an informed decision and understand the possible consequences of their return," Fleming said.

She added that UNHCR provides regular technical support in the voluntary repatriations from Turkey through observation of the interviews conducted by designated Turkish authorities to safeguard the voluntary nature of return.

According to the Prime Minister's Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate, more than 97,000 Syrians have returned since March 2011. Of this number, UNHCR has observed interviews with 13,000 cases, or more than 24,000 people. Roughly half of those returning said they were going back to Syria temporarily to check on their homes or to attend funerals. Some said they were returning due to reports of an improvement in the security situation.




UNHCR country pages

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

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