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Turkey hosts Ministerial Coordination Meeting of Major Host Countries for Syrian Refugees

Press Releases, 17 January 2014

17 January 2014, Harran-Kökenli camp, Turkey Government ministers and senior representatives from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt together with UNHCR today appealed to the international community to boost solidarity with countries in the region that are hosting the majority of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.

In a joint statement delivered to journalists in the Harran-Kökenli refugee camp near Sanliurfa in south-eastern Turkey, participants deplored the extent of human suffering caused by the Syria crisis, its destabilizing impact on the entire region, and the threat it poses to global peace and security.

Participants reiterated that the refugee influx is a result of the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Syria, and underlined that unless stability and security are reestablished in Syria, a solution would remain elusive. "It is clear that there can be no military solution to the conflict. The solution must be political," the representatives of the five main host countries and UNHCR said. "We therefore appeal to all parties to the conflict to put their differences aside and come together for the Geneva II conference on 22 January, where some real steps must be taken towards finding a political solution and putting an end to the fighting." They further declared that, "Geneva II cannot be indifferent to the humanitarian dimension of the Syrian conflict and dramatic suffering of the Syrian people. Conditions must be created for humanitarian agencies to have unimpeded access to all the victims of the conflict, independently of their location inside Syria."

Today's high-level meeting was co-chaired by Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, who were joined by Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari; Jordan's Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Dr. Ibrahim Saif; Egyptian Deputy Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Randa Labib and Lebanon's Refugee Coordinator at the Ministry of Social Affairs, Makram Malaeb, as part of a high-level regional coordination effort between UNHCR and major refugee-hosting countries in response to the world's largest refugee outflow in nearly 20 years.

Participants reaffirmed the outcomes of a high-level conference on solidarity and burden-sharing with countries hosting Syrian refugees, which took place during UNHCR's Executive Committee session in early October 2013. During that conference, the nearly 90 member states on UNHCR's governing board called for more financial aid and solidarity to help ease the burden on neighboring states in supporting refugees. Following today's meeting, ministers noted the continued need for massive international support to their countries, both in the form of increased financial assistance and through burden-sharing measures such as receiving higher numbers of Syrian refugees in countries beyond the Middle East. They also appealed to development actors and financial institutions to scale up their support to refugee hosting countries.

The ministers and UNHCR encouraged other countries to keep their borders open for Syrians seeking protection, to further enhance resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes for refugees, and introduce more flexible family reunification procedures and visa requirements for Syrians. In addition, UNHCR has called for a global moratorium on returns of Syrians to Syria and to countries in the region hosting the vast majority of refugees.

The delegates welcomed the results of the second international humanitarian pledging conference for Syria held in Kuwait City two days ago, which saw US$ 2.4 billion pledged to support refugees in the region as well as those in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. Ministers appealed for more support to local refugee-hosting communities, who find themselves under heavy pressure due to the influx.

There are now over 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees in the region, including some 869,000 in Lebanon, 600,000 in Jordan, 582,000 in Turkey, 213,000 in Iraq and over 132,000 in Egypt. Governments estimate actual numbers to be much higher. In addition, an estimated total of 6.5 million people are displaced inside Syria.

Also at the meeting, delegates reached agreement to intensify joint work in three critical areas; resettlement and humanitarian admission; awareness raising and advocacy and humanitarian access and delivery inside Syria.

Guest delegates expressed their appreciation to the Government of Turkey for organizing this meeting.

Read the related story: "UNHCR joins call in Turkey for solidarity with countries hosting Syrian refugees"
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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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