Geneva crisis meet agrees to boost international support for countries hosting Syrian refugees

News Stories, 1 October 2013

© UNHCR/J.Kohler
A scene from the crowded Za'atri refugee camp in Jordan. The meeting in Geneva agreed on action needed to help countries like Jordan cope with the burden of hosting so many Syrian refugees.

GENEVA, October 1 (UNHCR) A high-level UNHCR meeting in Geneva on the Syrian humanitarian crisis wrapped up today with agreement on urgent international action to mitigate the immense economic and social impact on host countries neighbouring Syrian refugees.

In a final statement, member states of UNHCR's governing Executive Committee (ExCom) said they were alarmed at the situation inside Syria, which has forced more than 2.1 million people to flee to other countries since March 2011. They acknowledged the profound impact this was having on refugee-hosting communities, economies, societies, services, infrastructure, environment and security in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt.

In the statement released on Tuesday afternoon, they called on the international community to focus support in five areas: Direct aid to governments; financial and in-kind help to refugee populations and the communities hosting them; assistance for economies, societies, services, infrastructure, environment and security; Enhanced resettlement, humanitarian admissions and family reunification possibilities for Syrian refugees in third countries; development initiatives and projects to help host communities to ease the economic and social costs of hosting Syrian refugees.

The two-day high-level discussion on solidarity and burden-sharing with countries hosting Syrian refugees was the opening segment of the annual meeting of UNHCR's ExCom, which was to be addressed later Tuesday by High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres.

The high-level segment was attended by government representatives from some 135 states, including the foreign ministers of Iraq, Jordan and Turkey as well as Lebanon's social affairs minister and the assistant foreign minister of Egypt. They briefed the meeting on the impact that the Syrian refugee crisis was having on their countries and the region.

Also present were top officials from the World Bank, several UN organizations, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations. UNHCR's Eminent Advocate Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi of Sharjah was also present.

Syria's conflict, which began in March 2011, has produced one of the most dramatic and rapid forced displacement situations of recent years. Today, an estimated 4.25 million people are internally displaced in Syria, while more than 2.1 million have either registered as refugees or are waiting to register in the surrounding region.

Currently, the UN's Regional Response Plan for 2013, which aims at addressing the humanitarian needs in the refugee-hosting countries, is 47 per cent funded.

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Executive Committee

The governing body meets annually to discuss programmes, budgets and other key issues.

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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