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High level UNHCR talks on Syrian refugees

Talks in Geneva take place as the number of Syrian refugees has crossed the two million mark

Syrian-Kurdish refugees carry a mattress and a kerosene heater at the Quru Gusik refugee camp, 20 kilometres east of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq on Tuesday (AFP PHOTO/SAFIN HAMED)
Syrian-Kurdish refugees carry a mattress and a kerosene heater at the Quru Gusik refugee camp, 20 kilometres east of Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq on Tuesday

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee’s (UNHCR) Executive Committee’s member states acknowledged the “significant investment” of refugee-hosting, following a meeting in Geneva.

The member states released a joint statement on Tuesday at the end of their two day meeting, which was held on Monday and Tuesday in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting was on “solidarity and burden-sharing with countries hosting Syrian refugees” and is described as a “solely humanitarian and non-political spirit” meeting. The Egyptian United Nations delegation had asked the UNHCR for this meeting earlier this month.

“We recognize the profound impact on host communities, economies, societies, services, infrastructure, environment and security,” the statement read. The member states praised the “exemplary efforts” of refugee hosting countries and communities. They added that they are mindful of the needs of a “huge number of persons of concern” who had to leave their homes in Syria.

Egypt hosts 126,000 Syrian refugees, UNHCR figures indicate, but government estimates in June show the number to be around 250,000 to 300,000.

Virginia Saiz, Acting Country Director of Plan International, a global children’s charity, said:

“Egypt is not currently offering a protective environment for Syrian refugees with increased arrests, deportations, harassment and a general decline in hospitality.” The charity released a statement on Sunday saying that although Egyptians initially welcomed Syrians, after recent political turmoil, Egyptians’ attitudes shifted.

Egypt has not built refugee camps for Syrians; thus, they live in urban areas, relying on depleted savings. “Because they do not live in camps, it is challenging to identify where Syrians are to provide support without creating social tensions with poor Egyptians in the host community,” Saiz said.

The charity is creating an emergency response to aid Syrian refugees in Egypt, focusing on Alexandria, which has a high concentration of refugees. It also works with the UNHCR and other NGOs to protect and help children and seeks to create an understanding between Egyptian and Syrian communities.

Of the registered Syrian refugees in Egypt, 30,000 are of school age. UNHCR welcomed a decision by the Egyptian Ministry of Education’s on 17 September, which granted Syrian children continued access to education in the country.

The UNHCR Executive Committee member states called on the international community to provide direct aid to governments, provide financial and in-kind assistance to refugees, host them in coordination with the state, and “offer enhanced resettlement, humanitarian admission and family reunification opportunities in third countries.”

UNHCR also urged development actors to consider initiatives or projects that can ease the economic and social costs for communities of hosting refugees and called for coordination with governments to avoid duplication.

They also said they were grateful for the detailed briefing by Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey “on the impact on their countries and communities of more than 2 million refugees.”

According to figures from the UNHCR, the number of Syrian refugees in the region is 2.1 million. The number of refugees is estimated to surge to 3.45 million by the end of the year. Lebanon hosts nearly 770,000 refugees, the largest number of refugees; Jordan and Turkey come after Lebanon, respectively, with around 500,000 in each country. Iraq hosts about 190,000 refugees.

The member states added that they are alarmed at the complexity of the situation in Syria, adding that they believe that without a comprehensive political solution, the humanitarian situation will continue to deteriorate.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday that the death toll from the ongoing internal fighting in the Levant country has reached 115,000.

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