UN: Syrian refugee exodus to Jordan double in past week

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
[PHOTO: UNifeed] 
Geneva: The UN refugee agency said that the pace of arrivals from the Syrian border to the Za'atri camp in the north of Jordan has doubled in the past week.

UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told journalists in Geneva that some "10,200 people arrived in the seven days between August 21-27, compared to 4,500 the previous week." She added that more than 22,000 people have been received at Za'atri since it opened on July 30.

"Refugees say many thousands more are waiting to cross amid violence around [the governorate of] Daraa and we believe this could be the start of a much larger influx. Some of those who have crossed in recent days – especially Friday – report being bombed by aircraft. There are also reports of shelling, mortars and other weapons fire."

Typically, refugees cross the border at night and are taken straight to the camp by the International Organization for Migration and the Jordanian army. But 1,147 refugees arrived on Monday morning and were followed by another 1,400 overnight and early Tuesday.

Most of the arrivals over the past week have come from Daraa. Many refugees report being displaced up to five or six times inside Syria before they fled the country.

"We have received in the camp over the past week an increased number of unaccompanied children. Some children report that their parents have died, or are staying behind in Syria to look after relatives, or are working in other countries," Fleming said. "Some children, who did not have passports, said they were sent ahead of their parents who will follow later," the spokesperson added.

UNHCR, alongside the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization, is racing to meet the humanitarian needs of the rapidly expanding refugee population at Za'atri with shelter, food, water and health care.

Staff from the refugee agency are pitching more tents and expanding the camp, preparing new ground with a base course of fine gravel to help control dust at the site. Trucks have been sent from a regional warehouse in Zarqa to reinforce stocks of tents and blankets.

The fast pace of arrivals has affected efforts to improve conditions for the existing population, but work on this continues.

Meanwhile, Fleming said UNHCR's operations in Lebanon were returning to normal with some improvements in the security situation over recent days. "Our registration centre in Tripoli has reopened and refugees are now making use of this. Distribution in the north was disrupted, but with the reopening of the northern highway over the weekend our trucks can now deliver relief items to our hubs in Qobbayat," she said.

In the Bekaa Valley, distribution, registration and field visits have resumed. With the new school term about to start, UNHCR is urgently trying to relocate refugee families staying in schools. In the north, UNHCR has found an alternative shelter for families staying in operational schools. Across Lebanon, more than 53,000 people have registered with UNHCR or have appointments to be registered.

In Syria, there is also urgent need to find alternative shelter for the increasing number of displaced people staying in schools due to reopen next month. Local authorities are finalizing a list of possible collective centres and UNHCR stands ready to rehabilitate buildings to shelter displaced people.

Across Syria, 350 schools are occupied by displaced people, according to the government, which estimates more than 1 million people are sheltering in public buildings. For the newly displaced, the urgent needs have been food, clothes, mattresses, blankets, sheets and access to better sanitation.

"Despite the escalation of the conflict in Syria, our operations there are continuing," UNHCR's Fleming said, adding: "Our telephone hotlines and counselling services are proving critical tools to keep in touch with displaced people and offer them support when our movements are restricted due to the security situation."

In neighbouring Iraq, the Al-Qaem border crossing has been closed since August 16 and there has been no increase in the number of Syrian refugees, which stands at 15,898. While the Al-Waleed and Rabiya border crossing points remain open, UNHCR is advocating with the government that the Al-Qaem border be reopened.

In Turkey, the number of Syrians arriving at the border has increased dramatically. Compared to previous weeks, when around 400-500 people arrived daily, up to 5,000 people have been reaching the borders every day over the past two weeks.

"In the past 24 hours, over 3,000 Syrians are reported to have crossed into Turkey, with a further 7,000 expected to cross in the coming days," Fleming said. The 3,000 crossed at the Kilis, Yayladagi and Reyhanli border crossings. A new camp, Karkamis, in Gaziantel province, has been opened and many of the new arrivals are being transferred there.

The Turkish authorities plan an additional 5-6 camps, for a total overall capacity of up to 150,000 people. UNHCR and partners are providing technical support and aid. A UNHCR airlift filled with tents arrived at Adana early today. "An increase in international support is vital to back Turkey's efforts to keep pace with the large numbers of Syrian refugees seeking refuge there," the UNHCR spokesperson stressed.
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