UNHCR chief Guterres highlights the plight of Syrian children

News Stories, 2 December 2013

© UNHCR/M.Hofer
High Commissioner António Guterres listens to a Syrian family that found refuge at the transit centre in Arsal, Lebanon.

ARSAL, Lebanon, December 2 (UNHCR) The rugged hillside town of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley is home to about 18,000 people in peaceful times.

Since November 15, this population has more than doubled as refugees fleeing violence in the western Syria region of Qalamoun continue to stream across the border, located just 17 kilometres from Arsal. Syrians now outnumber Lebanese in the town.

Last Friday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Arsal to meet the latest group to flee Syria's 31-month civil war and to thank local leaders and humanitarian agencies for helping the new arrivals. He drew attention to the urgent need to support Syrian children affected by the violence. His visit to the region coincided with the release of a major new report from UNHCR detailing the costs of the war on Syria's next generation.

During his visit, Guterres praised Lebanon for its "massive generosity" in playing host to more than 800,000 refugees, and urged donor nations to match that generosity with financial assistance to Lebanon and to refugees. He asked for a greater readiness to accept Syrian refugees who want to be resettled in third countries.

"The global response [to the Syrian crisis] has been huge," he said. "But it is out of proportion to the needs."

The burden that countries like Lebanon and Jordan are being forced to shoulder has to be shared by the whole international community, he said, if those countries are to be expected to keep their borders open and welcome survivors of the conflict in the future.

"Let's be honest. We're not doing enough," said Guterres. "Here in Arsal, we are seeing an emergency within an emergency. We're in a town that has more Syrians than Lebanese. Beyond that there is a gap of human capacity, clinics, schools that are not there."

He made the comments while visiting a new transit centre of green canvas UNHCR tents set up in the past week as part of what has become the largest UNHCR operation in the world.

Guterres called for renewed attention to the plight of Syrian children, as detailed in a major new report released Friday and entitled: "The Future of Syria: Refugee Children in Crisis."

The report documents how child survivors of the war are suffering from profound psychological distress, loneliness and trauma as a result of their experiences. Only one third of children are in school. More than 1.1 million children are now refugees.

"The numbers are appalling," said Guterres. "But what is really important is the life of each child: We must have massive support if we're to avoid another lost generation."




UNHCR country pages

The High Commissioner

Filippo Grandi, who took office on January 1 2016, is the UN refugee agency's 11th High Commissioner.

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

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

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.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

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

Za'atari oldest manPlay video

Za'atari oldest man

At 113, Yousef is a very old man. Until conflict forced him to flee Syria two years ago, his life was spent peacefully with his farm, his shop, his three children and 160 descendants nearby. Now, he is perhaps the oldest resident of Za'aatri refugee camp in Jordan. "He was sad when we told him we wanted to leave," says his daughter Nejmeh. "He tells me he wants to go back to Syria…He made me promise, if he dies, to bury him in Syria."
United Kingdom: High Commissioner calls for more funding for Syrian Refugees
Play video

United Kingdom: High Commissioner calls for more funding for Syrian Refugees

Speaking at the London Syria Conference, the head of the UN Refugee Agency Filippo Grandi called for a significant increase in pledges to offer much-needed stability, opportunities and hope to Syrian refugees, who are becoming more vulnerable as a brutal war has raged for five years
Lebanon: Newborn Boy Spends First Winter In A WarehousePlay video

Lebanon: Newborn Boy Spends First Winter In A Warehouse

Just ten days old, Syrian infant Mohammed is already experiencing the harshness of refugee life. Living with his family in a warehouse without furniture, natural light or permanent heat, he is already battling his first cold.