UNHCR concerned about Syrians stuck at border, reiterates call for international support

News Stories, 24 May 2013

© UNHCR/J.Kohler
Newly arrived Syrian refugees in Jordan after crossing the border. Numbers of trying to flee are growing.

GENEVA, May 24 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency on Friday called on countries around Syria to keep their borders open for refugees while stressing that "urgent and robust" international support for host countries and aid organizations was vital.

Amid worsening violence inside Syria, UNHCR expects the number of refugees currently more than 1.5 million to continue climbing steeply and put more pressure on host countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told journalists in Geneva.

While commending the governments of neighbouring countries for hosting so many people, she said UNHCR was concerned about reports that many Syrians trying to flee might be stuck at the border in extremely dangerous areas. "We are also disturbed by accounts indicating there may be restrictions imposed on those wishing to leave Syria," Fleming said.

The spokesperson reiterated a call on all parties to protect civilians and allow safe passage for those wishing to flee. She said that while UNHCR acknowledged the legitimate concerns of neighbouring countries, "it is essential that civilians fleeing violence have access to safety under all circumstances also in accordance to international law."

She said UNHCR urged all countries, not just those bordering Syria, to keep their borders open to offer protection to Syrian refugees.

Fleming also said it was critical that the international community "provides urgent and robust support to refugee hosting countries and humanitarian operations to enable them to continue to receive and address the growing needs of Syrian refugees. These countries should not be left to shoulder the burden alone."

UNHCR and its partners are stepping up efforts and appealing for new funds to support the refugee population with life-saving and life-sustaining assistance.

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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

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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.

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Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

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UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

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