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UN High Commissioner for Refugees warns Security Council of "terrifying" humanitarian situation for Syria

Press Releases, 18 April 2013

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, warned the Security Council today that without an end to the fighting soon, almost half Syria's 20.8 million population could be in need of humanitarian help by the end of 2013.

In an address to the Council by video-link from Geneva, Guterres said 400,000 refugees had fled Syria in the last seven weeks, bringing the population of Syrians registered as refugees or waiting to be registered to 1,367,413. If current trends continue, he said, then by the end of the year there may be up to 3.5 million Syrian refugees, together with 6.5 million people inside Syria who may become in need of help.

"These figures are terrifying," he said. "This is not just frightening, it risks becoming simply unsustainable. There is no way to adequately respond to the enormous humanitarian needs these figures represent. And it is difficult to imagine how a nation can endure so much suffering."

"I know that, as High Commissioner for Refugees, I should confine my remarks to the scope of my mandate," he added. "But as a citizen of the world, I cannot refrain from asking: Isn't there any way to stop this fighting, to open the door for a political solution?"

Guterres told the Security Council that humanitarian funding needs had become so urgent that governments would need to look at extraordinary funding mechanisms to avoid the international response capacity becoming overwhelmed. He also warned of the growing pressure the refugee crisis is exerting on countries in the region.

"The first step necessary… is for the international community to provide massive support to the two countries that are most dramatically impacted by the Syrian conflict and the refugee outflow it has caused Jordan and Lebanon," he said.

"For Lebanon, the Syrian crisis has become an existential threat. The population has grown by more than 10 per cent if one counts the registered Syrian refugees alone… [In Jordan], like in Lebanon, the Syria crisis has caused a significant drop in revenues from trade, tourism, and foreign investment, compounded by the impact of a very large refugee influx."

Guterres also noted the huge impact the crisis is having on Turkey, which he said deserved particular recognition for having provided more than $750 million in direct assistance to over 300,000 Syrian Refugees.

"Helping Syria's neighbours deal with the human fallout of this terrible conflict is crucial for preserving the stability of the entire region. This is not just another refugee crisis what happens in Syria and in the neighbouring countries potentially has much wider, even global, implications."

Earlier on Thursday, Kuwait became the latest country to donate, providing UNHCR with $110 million for its Syria operations as part of a $275 million package of funding for UN agencies. Kuwait's donation is the largest the agency has ever received from a Gulf country and means that UNHCR has now received around 50 per cent of the funds it has requested for Syrian refugees and displaced during the first half of 2013. A new appeal is due in May.

The full text of High Commissioner Guterres' address is available here

For additional information:

  • Adrian Edwards, edwards@unhcr.org +41 79 557 9120
  • Melissa Fleming, fleming@unhcr.org +41 79 557 9122



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.

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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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