UNHCR Briefing Notes

Geneva, 11.01.2013


1-     Winter conditions adding to hardships for more than 600,000

Syrian refugees

 2-      More people flee western Myanmar by sea, as desperation grows

 3-     UNHCR concerned about internally displaced, refugee populations

in CAR


This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva.

1 – Winter conditions adding to hardships for more than 600,000 Syrian refugees

The severe winter conditions across Syria and the surrounding region this past week have brought new difficulties for refugees and other displaced people. Even with the winter preparation work that has been done in recent months, many refugees in both camp and non-camp situations are facing particularly cold and damp conditions. At the same time, there has been no let-up in the numbers of people fleeing Syria into neighbouring countries. Around the region there were, as of figures we received yesterday (Thursday), 612,134 people either registered as refugees or being assisted as such.


The first week of 2013 has seen a surge in new arrivals with an average of more than 1100 Syrians crossing the border every day, although with reduced numbers over the past few days amid freezing rain. Many of those arriving have been barefoot, with their clothing soaked, and covered in mud and snow. Refugees report discarding their belongings to carry their children through flooded countryside to Jordan. For people arriving at the border, UNHCR managed yesterday to send 1,000 blankets, 500 mattresses along with emergency clothing. Our partners at WFP also sent 3,000 welcome meals.

At Za’atri there was flooding earlier this week, amid some of the worst weather conditions in Jordan in 20 years. UNHCR managed yesterday

(Thursday) to deliver several truckloads of gravel to elevate the ground level and improve drain-off. Culvert openings were cut through the camp ring road at 4 different points to release standing water into creeks surrounding the camp. This has improved things in the eastern part of the camps and we expect the whole camp to be dry soon.

Health services in Za’atri camp are all operational with mobile clinics covering the affected area in the camp, detecting medical cases in need of transfers to the camp hospital and treating primary health care patients on the spot.

UNHCR and partners relocated affected Syrians to the prefabs during the past three nights, as efforts to assist and relocate affected and vulnerable families continue. UNICEF is placing 45 emergency latrines in the new prefab modules. UNHCR is distributing 5 blankets per person for new arrivals to Za’atri, in addition to winter clothing. UNHCR/NRC are also distributing dry blankets, mattresses and other non-food items to those whose belongings were affected.

For refugees living away from the camp, conditions have also been difficult. Many are accommodated in shelters with limited heating and insulation from the freezing conditions, along with a shortage of warm clothing and blankets. Some 6000 families are receiving cash assistance.

The Government of Jordan estimates that some 280,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into the country in the past 22 months. 176,569 of these are registered with or being assisted by UNHCR.


The registered and assisted refugee population in Lebanon has now swollen to almost 200,000 people (194,769). Over the past week, temperatures have in general remained above or close to freezing, but there has nonetheless been snow. Flooding has occurred in a number of tented settlements in the Bekaa, in houses in a low rise area of Wadi Khaled in the north, and at a warehouse housing refugees further south in Sidon. A collective effort in Sidon by UNHCR, the Danish Refugee Council, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre has allowed for draining of the warehouse. In Bekaa and in the Wadi Khaled we have taken a ction to deal with the flooding and help affected refugees in partnership – variously – with Action Contre La Faim, and Premiere Urgence. We’re also gearing up provision of assistance with local municipalities, and NGOs. Dry mattress, bed covers and food vouchers have been handed out; Four Syrian and two Lebanese fami lies have been moved away from a flooded part of Wadi Khaled; and we are making additional room available to house people in collective shelters. In light of this week’s conditions we have further increased distribution of warm blankets, heaters, fuel vouchers, winter clothing, and plastic sheeting. 6,700 families have had their homes weather-proofed, and renovation help has been provided to 5,300 others.


Our Turkey office reports that all camps are affected by the harsh winter conditions of the past week. The Turkish authorities have done significant work in reinforcing camps against the winter conditions, including creating platforms for tents, providing electrical heaters, tarpaulins, plastic sheeting and warm clothing plus additional high thermal blankets. Nonetheless, and to further support this, UNHCR has provided family tents for 83,500 persons, blankets for 107,220 persons, kitchen sets for 110,220 persons, plus we have placed an order with the Turkish Red Crescent Agency for 18,500 winterized tents. Tragically, and despite precautions taken by the camp authorities, late December saw two fire incidents – one at Ceylanpinar, another at Akcakale. Together these claimed the lives of five children, leaving two others injured.


Heavy snow has affected the Domiz camp in Dohuk in particular. Living conditions for refugees outside the camps and in local communities are also difficult, with people affected by the cold and facing high prices for basic commodities.

While substantial winterization work has already been done, UNHCR is monitoring the situation closely. Currently, we have urgent needs for additional winter clothing, boots, and scarves, particularly for children. Refugees living in Erbil have also complained about shortages of winter medicines and the need for food. UNHCR is looking at additional measures to help including cash assistance and construction materials to help people improve the places in which they are sheltering. Thermal blankets have also been handed out in the urban

areas of Zakhou, Duhok, and Semeil.   We are also handing out additional plastic sheeting and kerosene.

At Al-Qaim, additional stoves and kerosene have been provided for all refugees – numbering around 7,000 people. Heating systems have been installed in school tents, along with solar heaters in the women’s showers. Together with partners, additional winter clothes are also being handed out.


UNHCR has in recent months provided significant winterization aid to refugees and displaced families inside Syria, including winter quilts, heavier blankets, and winter clothing. Shelter assistance work started in late 2012, with work on 40 shelters on-going, and programmes of cash assistance have been underway. As of year’s end UNHCR had helped over

400,000 people in accessible areas of Syria, providing non-food aid, and in addition cash aid to nearly 15,000 families. Despite the difficult security conditions, we are continuing to work to help people where we can – often working through partner organizations. However, difficulties of access mean we cannot reach all people in need.

Additional Data

Regionwide, 612,134 Syrians are either registered as refugees or being assisted as such. The following are the numbers by country:

LEBANON (as of 9 January)

Number of Syrians registered and pending registration with UNHCR:


Registered / Pending registration: 138,213 / 56,556

JORDAN (as of 7 January)

Number of Syrians registered and pending registration with UNHCR:


Registered / Pending registration: 128,628 / 47,941


PLEASE NOTE: These statistics are based on active registrations in the  UNHCR database. Users are cautioned that the actual population is subject to uncertainties including incomplete camp departure information and other variables. UNHCR and its partners are implementing measures to improve registration figures accuracy.

TURKEY (Government of Turkey figures dated 10 January)

Number of Syrians registered in camps: 153,163

IRAQ (as of 8 January)

Number of Syrians registered with UNHCR: 69,282

EGYPT (as of 9 January)

Number of Syrians registered with UNHCR: 13,292

North Africa (as of 31 December)

Number of Syrians registered with UNHCR: 5,059


For more information, http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php



2 – More people flee western Myanmar by sea, as desperation grows

Growing numbers of people are risking their lives on smugglers’ boats in the Bay of Bengal following the recent violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and as frustration mounts over the lack of imminent solutions to their plight.

Just one week into the new year, UNHCR has had reports that more than 2,000 people have left Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state and Bangladesh on big boats run by smuggling rings. Their final destination is uncertain, although they are believed to be heading to other countries in South-east Asia.

These most recent reports add to what is already thought to be a record number of people who have reportedly made the dangerous journey in recent months. In 2012, an estimated 13,000 people left from the Bay of Bengal on smugglers’ boats.  Among them are Muslims from Rakhine state, long-staying refugees in Bangladesh, and Bangladeshis. Most appear to be men travelling alone, but there are increasing numbers of women and children apparently among smuggled passengers – often an indicator of growing desperation and lack of prospects.

At least 485 people are believed to have died or remain missing in four reported boat accidents in the Bay of Bengal last year. The real death toll could be much higher. It is hard to tell due to the clandestine nature of these irregular movements.

There are unconfirmed reports in the media that smuggled passengers who make it to land are increasingly being detained by smugglers’ networks on the Thailand-Malaysia border. The smugglers call their relatives in Bangladesh to demand money for the rest of the journey. If payment is not made, the passengers typically face being sold to trafficking networks as bonded labourers on fishing boats until they can pay off their debts.

It is unclear how many actually make it to their final destinations, where they often risk arrest, detention and possible refoulement through deportation to Myanmar. UNHCR continues to seek access to individuals arriving by boat who are arrested and detained by government authorities.

In Thailand, we have asked for access to newly-arrived people from Myanmar and are awaiting a response from the authorities. In Malaysia, UNHCR systematically requests and is typically granted access to individuals arriving by boat. Our office there is eventually able to secure their release from detention if they are deemed to be people of concern to UNHCR.

UNHCR fears that more people could take the dangerous voyage from the Bay of Bengal, driven by desperation after inter-communal violence broke out in Rakhine state in June and October last year. Some 115,000 people remain displaced within the state.

In neighbouring Bangladesh, there is also a growing sense of hopelessness among the refugees from Myanmar who have fled there since the early 1990s. Some 30,000 refugees are hosted in two official camps while a larger number of Muslims from Rakhine state are living in squalid makeshift sites and among the local communities.

This growing boatpeople crisis calls for regional approaches and solutions. UNHCR encourages the Government of Mya nmar to intensify measures to address some of the main push factors. This includes the lack of sustainable development and the resulting widespread poverty, the lack of rights for an important part of the population and recognition of the economic interdependence of all communities in Rakhine state.

At the same time, we urge countries in the region to maintain open borders and ensure humane treatment and access to UNHCR of people seeking asylum from Myanmar or elsewhere. UNHCR stands ready to support States in assisting people in need of international protection.

UNHCR also appeals to shipmasters to continue the long tradition of rescue at sea for boats that are in distress. We applaud recent government actions to allow for the disembarkation of people rescued by commercial vessels in the Bay of Bengal and call upon all States in the region to act in a spirit of generosity and flexibility should similar situations arise in the future.

In March, UNHCR will co-organize a regional roundtable on irregular maritime movements in the Asia-Pacific, bringing together governments, relevant organizations and other stakeholders to discuss practical regional approaches to the problem. We hope that this forum will serve as a launching pad for concrete actions by concerned States in the region, to enhance regional dialogue and improve responses to irregular maritime movements based on inter-State co-operation and coordination as well as burden and responsibility-sharing. Such actions could be implemented within the framework of a sub-regional arrangement under the Regional Cooperation Framework as endorsed at the 4th Bali Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and related Transnational Crime.

3 – UNHCR concerned about the displaced, refugee populations in CAR

In the Central African Republic UNHCR is seeking immediate and unconditional access to tens of thousands of refugees and CAR civilians displaced by the recent fighting in the north and east of one of the poorest countries and most deprived nations. We believe that these civilians face deteriorating living conditions and that they need urgent and potentially life-saving help.

While UNHCR welcomes the one-week ceasefire announced last night during the Gabon peace talks between the CAR Government, the Seleka rebel alliance and opposition parties, we fear that many more people will be affected including some 700,000 in the capital if full-scale fighting resumes.

It is impossible to give precise figures for the number of newly displaced because of the fluid security situation and lack of access to rebel-held areas, but we have received reports of thousands of people being displaced in the north and east since the start of the Séléka advance about a month ago. About 800,000 people were believed to be living in the affected areas when the current crisis erupted.

We are extremely concerned about the general welfare of displaced civilians, many of whom live under harsh conditions and in remote settlements, as well as of refugees from countries including South Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. CAR hosts some 17,000 refugees and some 2,500 asylum-seekers. We call on all sides to respect the human rights of all civilians and to allow humanitarian access to them.

We are particularly worried about some 2,000 Sudanese refugees in the Bambari camp, in the central part of the country – an area under rebel control. UNHCR is trying to re-establish contact with this refugee population. There were confirmed reports that our office there was looted on December 28 after our staff were evacuated. Another UNHCR office, in Kaga-Bandoro, has also been looted.

The current crisis in the country has also led to a small number of people fleeing to neighbouring countries. UNHCR staff have registered 286 refugees from CAR in the Nord-Oubangui region of DR Congo’s Equateur province. We are also investigating reports that some refugees have arrived in southern Chad.

Meanwhile the looting of several World Food Programme warehouses in Bria, Bambari and Kaga Bandoro could cause serious delays to food distribution to refugees in Bambari, Zemio and Batalimo. UNHCR and the WFP are looking for a quick solution for resuming food aid.






Speak Your Mind