United Nations refugee relief agency Report

August 24, 2012
August 24, 2012 .

Reports by the United Nations refugee relief agency, combined with accounts by officials and workers in refugee camps, provided new evidence that the emergency relief efforts undertaken so far are inadequate and have underestimated the needs of the refugee population.
The swelling numbers of Syrians have caused many new stresses in Syria’s neighbors. Turkey is struggling to accommodate overcrowded camps and said it has nearly reached its limit. The Lebanese and Jordanian Armies are increasingly confining refugees to inhospitable border areas with bare-bones accommodations. Schools near the Syrian border in Iraq, a country still recovering from war, are overflowing with refugees even as local children are preparing to return to class.

Many refugees are younger than 18, including unaccompanied children. Saba Mobaslat, director of Save the Children’s Jordan office, described a windswept, nearly barren area of desert near the Syrian border as a "children’s camp.” Each night this week, the number of people fleeing into Jordan almost quadrupled, compared with last week, she said.

As of Friday, the United Nations refugee agency said, 202,512 refugees had been registered in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, with more than 30,000 new arrivals tallied in the past seven days alone. The agency had anticipated a total of 185,000 registered refugees by the end of this year. Israel, which is in a technical state of war with Syria, has not taken any refugees.

"We’re already past where we were in terms of planning,” said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the agency’s formal name. "We’re going to have to revise upward the planning figures, and the corresponding amount of money needed to help them.”

The agency had budgeted $193 million for the emergency and has so far received adequate funding, Mr. Edwards said in a telephone interview from his Geneva headquarters. But the unanticipated increase in the refugee population means "we still need more money.”

With the number of refugee arrivals growing faster than expected, preparation has become more important, experts said.

"Can these countries and the humanitarian aid community ramp up their efforts quickly enough to deal with those numbers?” asked Nadim Houry, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. "It’s not just a challenge of a dollar amount. It’s a question of absorption. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan are all worried about this. These are countries that all absorbed Iraqi refugees and Palestinians before that, so there is a weariness that’s already there.”

The refugee problem has particularly unsettled Turkey, which has received at least 78,000 registered Syrians, the most of any country, and has imposed a limit of 100,000. Despite Turkey’s disciplined approach, it has run out of space at its nine camps and is building seven more, but it is unclear what will happen after the limit is reached. Some families have been forced to wait on the Syrian side of the border.

In Lebanon, where a weak central government has been more haphazard in its relief effort than Turkey, the crisis has been aggravated by sectarian fighting that is spilling over from Syria. That has complicated registration efforts by the United Nations refugee agency, which closed its office in Tripoli, in northern Lebanon, on Friday amid days of gunfire.

The plight of the refugees will only grow worse in the coming months, without a significant improvement in accommodations, as the torrid summer gives way to the bone-chilling winter winds that can whip through the unheated tent encampments. And yet, Mr. Edwards said a more immediate problem loomed: Many refugees are housed temporarily in schools, which must be vacated for the fall academic year.

"We are struggling over what to do with people living collectively in Lebanon, in Iraq — groups of refugees who have moved into schools, which have to open up in a matter of weeks,” he said.

The accelerated exodus at least partly reflects increased fighting in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s two largest cities, as well as an intense campaign by the government of President Bashar al-Assad to crush insurgents close to the Jordanian border around the southern city of Dara’a, where the uprising began nearly 18 months ago.

Ms. Mobaslat and other officials in Jordan said Syrians fleeing across the border, many of them from Dara’a, had been shot and traveled at night to avoid Syrian government forces.

But those forces also have dropped leaflets encouraging people to flee, especially from Aleppo, suggesting that Mr. Assad may be trying to use refugees to punish Syria’s neighbors, especially Turkey, a former Assad ally that turned on him as the repression in Syria worsened.

"It is a way for Assad to put pressure on Turkey,” said Ayman, a Syrian activist working with refugees at the Turkish border, who used only one name for security reasons. "He is seeking to destabilize Turkey.”

Most of the 51,000 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon have congregated near two crossings: the Bekaa region east of Beirut, and Wadi Khaled, in the north. While none are starving, aid workers said, the Lebanese government’s efforts to assist them have been uncoordinated and uneven.

Nabil al-Halabi, head of Life for Human Rights, a Lebanese group assisting refugees near the Bekaa crossing, said that without organized camps, many refugee families will not receive the help they need. "The number of refugees is growing every day, and the local government cannot deal with this daily flow alone,” he said.

Jordan and Lebanon have responded recently by doing more to limit refugee movement. In what appears to be an effort to discourage refugees from settling — driving up rents and competing for jobs — fences surround some makeshift camps just across the border in Lebanon.

"I’m afraid they will arrest us all and send us back,” said Ferhan al-Kurdi, 40, a refugee in Rama, Lebanon. "We don’t feel protected.”

Andrew Harper, the local Jordan representative for the United Nations refugee agency, said that 62,000 refugees had either registered in Jordan or were preparing to do so. The Jordanian government says there are about 150,000 Syrian refugees in the country, including people who did not register or those who crossed the border and never returned.

Ms. Mobaslat of Save the Children, who has been working in Jordan’s new Za’atri camp, built on a barren desert plain about six miles from the Syrian border, said that the pace of arrivals this past week went from 600 a night to more than 2,200 and that most were from Dara’a, including many children unaccompanied by parents.

The guarded compound, she said, offered little protection from the wind, and the arrivals had no choice but to remain. "People are running from a horrible situation to a terrible one,” she said.

Rick Gladstone reported from New York, and Damien Cave from Beirut, Lebanon. Reporting was contributed by Kareem Fahim from Cairo; Hwaida Saad from Beirut; Ranya Kadri from Amman, Jordan; and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.

Share on:

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter