Number of Syrian refugees tops 1.5 million mark, says UN agency

Syrian families continue to flee across borders. This photograph was taken at the Jordanian border. Photo: UNHCR/J. Kohler

17 May 2013 – The United Nations refugee agency announced today that the number of Syrian civilians who have fled their country to escape conflict has passed the 1.5 million mark, while warning that the widening gap between the needs and resources available is becoming a huge challenge.

“The Syrian conflict continues to have a devastating impact on the lives of those who are forced to flee,” Dan McNorton, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a news conference in Geneva.

He added that the real number was probably much higher, owing to “concerns that some Syrians have regarding registration.”

While UNHCR continues to respond to the emergency needs of those in need inside Syria and in neighbouring countries, Mr. McNorton stressed that the widening gap between the needs and resources available is a growing challenge.

The agency has registered close to 1 million refugees since the beginning of the year – about 250,000 people each month. Early next month, the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are due to announce a revised funding appeal for the Syria crisis.

“Refugees tell us the increased fighting and changing of control of towns and villages, in particular in conflict areas, results in more and more civilians deciding to leave. Over the past four months we have seen a rapid deterioration when compared to the previous 20 months of this conflict,” said Mr. McNorton.

Inside Syria, UNHCR continued this week to follow up on the needs and situation of several hundred families displaced in the village of Zamarin, on the outskirts of Tartus, a city on the Mediterranean coast.

They fled Banias district in Latakia governorate, where clashes erupted in early May. Some families found shelter in a mosque and local schools, but the majority have been hosted by families in Zamarin, Mr. McNorton said.

These families received UNHCR emergency relief assistance last week, including blankets, mattresses and hygiene kits. Many families have reportedly returned to Banias, where children have to take their exams soon.

UNHCR has been present in Tartus since early April and is permanently present in five cities – the others are Damascus, Aleppo, Hassakeh and Homs. Overall in Syria, UNHCR’s relief assistance has reached 860,000 displaced Syrians since the beginning of the year.

In neighbouring Lebanon, the agency has stepped up its capacity to register refugees. “Every day over 4,200 people approach our offices for registration. In April, over 90,000 refugees were registered in our centres. This is more than a ten-fold increase when compared to the same month in 2012,” said Mr. McNorton.

UNHCR has opened new registration centres and is using enhanced registration mechanisms, ensuring that individual protection interviews still take place, providing transportation assistance to refugees and expanding the number of shifts.

Despite heavy fighting, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners have provided life-saving supplies over the last week to some of the hardest to reach areas in Syria, including Aleppo and Al Houla, as well as to children and women who fled recent violence in Al Bayda and Baniyas.

The agency and its partners reached Zamarin and surrounding areas, on the outskirts of Tartus, which is hosting some 6,000 women and children who fled the nearby villages of Al Bayda and Baniyas, where mass killings have reportedly taken place this month, according to a news release.

Supplies such as clothes and hygiene items were distributed to families dispersed throughout the village or living in construction sites or schools.

Meanwhile, UNICEF and partners brought six trucks to Aleppo carrying hygiene kits, high energy biscuits, oral rehydration salts, two infant incubators, water purification tablets and clothing.

The agency added that, despite the deteriorating security situation, it has, working with its partners, managed to scale up the humanitarian response. This year alone, close to a million children in Syria have been vaccinated, some 7.4 million people have been provided with access to safe water, and close to 100,000 children have been enrolled in school clubs.


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