UNHCR chief visits Syrian border, calls for international support

News Stories, 20 June 2013

© UNHCR/J.Kohler
UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres speaks with newly arrived Syrian refugees at a Jordanian government receiving centre just inside the border.

SYRIAN-JORDAN BORDER, June 20 (UNHCR) In the hours before dusk, people wait along the windswept border between Jordan and Syria, desperate for the opportunity for safe passage. Arguments break out. They shout across a berm at Jordanian soldiers who calmly guard the border. They want to know if now is the time to cross.

A soldier gives the word and they run. They run as fast as they can. Fathers drag their sons. Women, children, old men and old women move as fast as their legs will carry them. They run because they are thirsty, hungry and desperately afraid. They are the most recent refugees from Syria's two-year civil war.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, a witness to the night's crossing, walks along a dirt road to meet the group of 400 new arrivals. "It's very important for the international community to express full solidarity with the refugees themselves and with the neighbouring countries," says Guterres. "Only massive international solidarity can allow them to be able to go on responding to the needs of the Syrian refugees."

The High Commissioner is in Jordan as part of a visit to the region to mark World Refugee Day, which falls on June 20 each year. Earlier in the week he visited Lebanon and met with refugees and government leaders.

In Jordan, he has visited with government officials, humanitarian workers and refugees. The purpose of the visit is to draw attention to the plight of Syrian refugees and to call on the international community to support them and the people in neighbouring countries who have been playing host to them.

"I have come to Jordan on this World Refugee Day to stand by the people of Syria in their time of acute need," Guterres said in a statement. "I also want to salute Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and all the countries in the region for being generous havens that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives."

"There is hardly a town or a city in Jordan that is not host to Syrians," he added. "It is much the same in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. That hospitality is a remarkable demonstration of humanity against a backdrop of depravity."

At the same time, he called on world leaders to find a political solution. "We will continue to do everything we can to aid and alleviate the suffering of Syrians," said Guterres. "But the cascade of death and destruction is spreading fast and I repeat my call on those with political responsibilities to overcome their divisions and come together to do everything in their power to stop this war."

Among the latest arrivals from Syria, the cost of that war, and the need for support and hospitality, is painfully apparent. A wounded man has been shot near the belly. He is taken away by an ambulance.

An elderly woman dressed in black beckons to soldiers for help. She shakes with exhaustion. She has been walking for hours. No food. No water. A crowd gathers around her until soldiers take her to safety. She sips a bottle of water held by her son. They fled the village of Rafik near the Israeli border, 10 days ago. "I carried her on my back," he explains. "There was shooting all the time during our journey. We just kept walking."

A woman named Zainab says she doesn't know her age. "Maybe I am 80," she says. "Maybe I am older." She says that she fled alone from a Damascus suburb after her home was bombed into rubble. Neighbours and passersby pushed her wheelchair to the border crossing and finally rolled her across the dirt and stone road into Jordan.

There are signs in this group that conditions in Syria are getting worse. Earlier this year, refugees would cross the border laden with personal belongings. They carried olive oil for their families already in Jordan, large suitcases, even their pets. Now the bags are smaller and the feeling of desperation more palpable. As long as the fighting continues, Syrians will have no choice but to take what they have and flee, and rely on the kindness of strangers.

By Melissa Fleming and Greg Beals on the Jordan-Syria border



Jordan: High Commissioner Urges Borders Stay OpenPlay video

Jordan: High Commissioner Urges Borders Stay Open

During his trip to Jordan to mark World Refugee Day on June 20, UNHCR High Commissioner António Guterres visited Tel Shihab border crossing where he urged all neighboring countries to keep their borders.

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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Switzerland: UNHCR Finding Pathways for Syrian Refugees

In the pursuit of innovative ways to help Syrian refugees, a conference in Geneva considers proposals for other pathways such as humanitarian admission, scholarships, family reunification and labour mobility.
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Syria: Heading Home to Ruins

Nearly half a million residents from Homs and surrounding areas have been displaced by heavy fighting, some multiple times within Syria, while others have fled abroad. One of the biggest challenges facing returnees, is rebuilding their homes in the rubble of old Homs and Hamediyeh.