UNHCR Briefing Notes

Geneva, 14.06.2013

 1 -    UNHCR Assistance Reaches Al Raqqa ; Influx into Lebanon

continues from Al-Qusayr

2 -    UNHCR welcome EU moves towards a common asylum system

3 -    Chad: UNHCR completes move of Darfur refugees from Tissi border

 

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

1-    UNHCR Assistance Reaches Al Raqqa ; Influx into Lebanon continues from Al-Qusayr

On 9 and 12 June, UNHCR emergency relief assistance reached Al Raqqa, an area of northern Syria which has not been accessible for the past three months and where the humanitarian situation is reported to be extremely dire. Taking advantage of a window of opportunity, nine trucks filled with mattresses, blankets, hygiene kits and kitchen sets were dispatched from Damascus. Seven are confirmed to have reached Raqqa and confirmation is awaited for the last two. This assistance will help some 5,000 persons displaced in this area.

Also this week, UNHCR’s team in Syria started distribution of financial help to displaced Syrian families in Tartus, a city on the coast. The displaced are from Aleppo, which is about 200 kilometres away. Families live in the collective shelters that UNHCR’s team has visited and supported in Tartus since April.

As of Thursday 13 June, UNHCR has helped close to 800 families in Tartus with cash assistance (or over 3,200 displaced persons) out of a target of 1,110 families. All families have been selected according to their level of vulnerability. The average assistance amounts to US$150 per family. Surveys carried out by UNHCR earlier this year in Damascus and Rural Damascus during similar distributions have shown that families were using the cash mainly for rent, fresh food and cooking gas. After Damascus and Rural Damascus earlier this year and Tartus this week, UNHCR is planning in the next months to help vulnerable displaced families with similar assistance in nine governorates across the country, starting with Homs and Damascus.

 

Influx from Al-Qusayr to Lebanon

Meanwhile, UNHCR teams in Lebanon continue to register and assist refugees arriving from Syria’s embattled Al-Qusayr. Since the beginning of the crisis there, Arsal has witnessed a regular influx of refugees through unofficial border crossing points in north-eastern Bekaa, peaking in periods of increased violence across the border. The offensive on Al Qusayr and the ensuing clashes and shelling of the villages around Al-Qusayr led to an increase in the average daily number of new arrivals in Arsal and reports of displacement within Syria. The period of the battle itself, spanning between 19 May and 6 June, saw a decrease in the number of new arrivals which only rose again in the past week.

The civilian population that remained in Qusayr and its surrounding villages was initially displaced within the conflict area itself. Many have since decided to cross the border into Lebanon.  Many told us they left family members behind with the intention of securing shelter before instructing them to cross the border. Others initially left Qusayr with the specific intention of joining relatives or acquaintances in Lebanon.  A large number of families reportedly remain on the Syrian side of the border. Although they intend to travel into Lebanon, there is limited cross-border transportation capacity.

UNHCR and partners are responding to the needs of the expanding population in coordination with local authorities and community based organizations. Families are being provided with food kits and non-food help. There has been a substantial increase in the number of wounded, including 60 children.  Families we spoke to describe a city reduced to rubble, devoid of any civilians and combatants. One man we spoke to told us there was no food left in the town and no water. He said people were resorting to squeezing water from the leaves of trees for nourishment. During th e fighting, people fled into fields outside the city hoping the fighting would end and they could return home. Those who fled to Lebanon took a dangerous and indirect route to Arsal.  Although many of the new arrivals seem to be securing accommodation with friends and relatives, finding suitable shelter remains the principal challenge for families choosing to stay in Arsal. Up to 20 families were staying in the municipal building’s courtyard on a recent morning. Some of the new arrivals have taken the initiative of pitching their own tents in the Bebine tented settlement that was spontaneously established nearly two months ago and that has grown substantially over the past few weeks to reach 125 tents housing over 160 families.

Large numbers of refugees are travelling onward to other towns in Lebanon. The exact number of new arrivals from Qusair remains difficult to gauge as most families immediately departed with relatives to other areas in Lebanon, particularly to the area around Wadi Khaled. UNHCR will commence the registration on new arrivals on Monday, which in turn should provide a clearer picture of the exact number of refugees in need of assistance.

 2 – UNHCR welcome EU moves towards a common asylum system

On Wednesday 12 June the European Parliament amended EU legislation on asylum after long and complex negotiations. The changes that have been brought are in UNHCR’s view a welcome step towards the establishment of a Common European Asylum System.  The ultimate objective of these changes is a uniform asylum system which is valid across the European Union. This would ensure that, regardless of the Member State in which an application for international protection is lodged, the application should receive the same treatment.  Among several new provisions which improve existing frameworks and practice are four elements that we believe are of particular note. The first is strengthened safeguards in asylum decision-making. This includes mandatory training requirements for authorities; a compulsory personal interview in all cases; requirements for a detailed report of the personal interview; and gender-sensitive procedures.

The second is further regulation of the use of detention. Systematic detention of asylum-seekers will no longer be possible. Important new guarantees include the requirement that any detention be necessary and proportionate; that detention is an exceptional measure and can only be justified for a legitimate purpose on defined grounds.

The third is more extensive guarantees for vulnerable people. These include the establishment of identification mechanisms, better representation for unaccompanied children, as well as specific procedural and reception guarantees.

Last, is earlier access to the labour market. In cases where claims for international protection are not decided within six months, asylum-seekers will have access to the labour market not later than nine months following the date when their applications were lodged.  UNHCR believes that the legislation agreed has potential to contribute to more harmonized asylum systems in the European Union. The agreed legislative package should further improve protection standards and practices across the 27 Member States – soon to be 28 – with Croatia’s imminent accession.  European Union Member States are now obliged to amend their national laws to reflect these changes. If correctly enacted in national laws and implemented in accordance with international protection principles, these new provisions could help ensure a more timely and accurate recognition of persons in need of international protection. This could also lead to resource savings – a key concern of all States – through more efficient asylum systems operating at a high standard of quality.

During the negotiation process, some compromises were made and some opportunities were missed to fill gaps and to clarify overly broad, complex and problematic provisions. Some new articles that have been introduce d do raise difficult questions of interpretation and of principle, for example, border entry procedures as they relate to unaccompanied children.  Such provisions are likely to require further guidance from the European Court of Justice to define their implications and UNHCR is committed to supporting this process. As part of our collaboration with governments and in the exercise of our supervisory function for the 1951 Refugee Convention, we are ready to work with Member States and other stakeholders to assist the legislative and implementation process at national level.

 UNHCR Credibility Assessment Report

Separately, a UNHCR report published today and also relating to Europe and asylum focuses on a central part of the examination of an asylum claim: determining whether statements and other evidence provided by an applicant are credible.

UNHCR notes in this report that applications for asylum are often turned down in the European Union due to questioning of the credibility of the evidence presented. With this report, and in light of the steps taken by the European Parliament, UNHCR hopes to contribute to the further harmonization of Member State practices as they relate to the assessment of credibility.

At a time when a common understanding of and approach to the credibility assessment process among EU Member States is still lacking, the report “Beyond Proof – Improving Credibility Assessment in EU Asylum Systems” [available at http://www.unhcr.org/51a8a08a9.html ( http://www.unhcr.org/mailing-manager/url/?l=1s1X1h1c0z1m0j0n0p0o0x1r1X1h1c0z0o0o0m0n0x1g1s1s1o0w0l0l1v1v1v0k1t1m1g1b1q0k1n1q1f0l1l1Z1h1k1h1m1f0j1l1Z1m1Z1f1d1q0l1t1q1k0l111k0z0n1r0n1Q0n1g0n1b0m1y0n1l0m1i0m1m0m1o0m1n0m1w0n1q0n1Q0n1g0n1b0m1y0m1n0m1m0m1t0m1l0m1w0n1f0n1r0n1r0n1n0m1v0m1k0m1k0n1u0n1u0n1u0m1j0n1s0n1l0n1f0n1a0n1p0m1j0n1m0n1p0n1e0m1k0m1q0m1m0n1S0m1t0n1S0m1l0m1t0n1S0m1u0m1j0n1f0n1r0n1k0n1j

)] provides unique insights into state practices based on research in EU Member States, guidance from other states and court rulings.

UNHCR calls for a fair EU asylum system with objective and impartial asylum decisions that take into account the applicant’s individual background and circumstances.  The report includes checklists and flowcharts that translate the legal and theoretical concepts into practical tools to assist decision-makers and support a fair assessment of credibility.

 3 – Chad: UNHCR completes move of Darfur refugees from Tissi border

In south-eastern Chad, we have finished the relocation of Darfur refugees from the volatile border area at Tissi to the newly established Ab Gadam camp, which is now hosting 10,247 people.  In addition to the urgency of moving refugees for safety reasons Tissi is also prone to bad weather. The first new storms and heavy winds have already hit the region, which is strewn with wadis that flood in the rainy season and make road travel impossible for humanitarian convoys.

The last relocation convoy left Tissi three days ago. In total, UNHCR and its partners moved 7,161 people over the past month – most of them women, children and elderly refugees. Some 3086 other refugees travelled to Ab Gadam by foot and on donkey carts.

 

We are now turning our attention to other Darfur refugees scattered across 18 additional remote sites in the border area. A first convoy departed from Haraza village yesterday with 270 refugees. Our aim is to complete all transfers before the wadis are flooded.

 

The refugees at these sites have been living in makeshift shelters with barely any protection against sun and rain. The local population is sharing their few resources with them. Once heavy rains start refugee locations will become completely cut off. Getting assistance to people will be extremely difficult. The rains in Chad last from end May to November.

 

In the new Ab Gadam camp UNHCR and its partners are also preparing for the rainy season. We are distributing food and non-food rations and we are also pre-positioning relief items.  Last weekend we and our partners moved also offices from Tissi to Bir Nahal, just 12 kilometres from the camp. Being close to the camp will allow us to maintain delivery of aid to refugees throughout the rainy season and respond to arising needs.

Two temporary medical posts were built and UNHCR´s health partners will start to treat refugees locally. Before the move, refugees in need of treatment had to be transported to the main Tissi health post nearly 29km further with the risk of the road being cut off by the rains.  While Ab Gadam offers refugees a better chance at receiving protection and assistance, parts of the camp are prone to flooding. We are therefore sensitizing refugees to settle only in designated areas and redirected those who are occupying flood-prone areas to safer grounds.  Meanwhile, we continue to work with our partners to provide sufficient clean water for all the refugees in Ab Gadam camp. Until last week, aid agencies had to truck water from the Tissi river and make it safe for consumption as the four boreholes dug so far have not revealed any ground water. We have now started trucking water from lake Tira, located nine kilometres from the camp.

Since January it is estimated that some 30,000 Darfuris have crossed into south-eastern Chad. The first wave of refugees fled conflict over gold mines in northern Darfur between the Binheissin and Rizeigat tribes, while a later group crossed because of communal violence between the Salamat and Misseriya tribes in Um Dukhun, an area of western Darfur lying just seven kilometres north of Tissi. Refugees are reporting on-going fighting inside Sudan. UNHCR will keep monitoring borders for new arrivals.

 

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