Entries in Refugees (18)


One Million Syrians Have Fled Country, UN Says

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images(GENEVA) -- As expected, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced on Wednesday that the number of Syrians who have fled the country, which has been embroiled in a bloody two-year civil war that has cost more than 70,000 lives, has reached one million.

In a statement, António Guterres said, "With a million people in flight, millions more displaced internally, and thousands of people continuing to cross the border every day, Syria is spiralling towards full-scale disaster.  We are doing everything we can to help, but the international humanitarian response capacity is dangerously stretched.  This tragedy has to be stopped."

The commissioner had predicted the toll would hit the one million mark last week.

The UNHCR says more than 400,000 Syrians have become refugees since the beginning of the year, with the majority fleeing to Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

Those neighboring countries have been greatly impacted by the mass exodus, Guterres says.  Lebanon has seen its population rise by as much as 10 percent, while Jordan's energy, water, health and education services have been severely strained.  Turkey, meanwhile, has already invested over $600 million establishing 17 refugee camps, with more planned.

"These countries should not only be recognized for their unstinting commitment to keeping their borders open for Syrian refugees, they should be massively supported as well," Guterres said.

Guterres is expected to travel to the region later this week to visit UNHCR operations in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


UN High Commissioner for Refugees Warns of ‘Unmanagable Crisis’ in Syria

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The UN High Commission on Refugees chief António Guterres spoke to the UN Security Council on Wednesday and warned that a “moment of truth” was approaching in Syria.

Noting that the refugee crisis is “accelerating at a staggering pace,” Guterres told the council that the international community could not allow the situation in the embattled country to deteriorate any further, and that the resulting disaster could “overwhelm the international response capacity -- political, security related and humanitarian."

“This must not be allowed to happen,” he stressed.

The head of the UNHCR also explained just how much the refugee crisis had already escalated. In April of 2012, about a year after the crisis began, there were only 33,000 registered refugees in the region.

"As of [Monday], we had registered -- or given out registration appointments -- to 940,000 Syrians across the Middle East and North Africa," he said, adding that since early January, more than 40,000 people had fled Syria every week.

Within Syria, an estimated 2 million are internally displaced and more than 4 million are affected by the fighting. Three quarters of the refugees are women and children.

"The children pay the hardest price of all," Guterres said. "Thousands of young lives have been shattered by this conflict and the future generation of an entire country is marked by violence and trauma for many years to come."

"Countries of asylum have been very generous and kept their borders open, but their capacity to do so is under severe pressure," said the High Commissioner.

Guterres concluded that the situation in Syria was likely to "deteriorate further before it gets any better," and that if the international community failed to prevent these worst-case scenarios, it would need to further step up its humanitarian response.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Syrian Refugees Flood Lebanon to Escape Civil War

ABC NewsBy Bob Woodruff

(NEW YORK) -- With no safe haven, more than 1,200 Syrian refugees pour into Lebanon daily. Most of them are mothers and children with no idea where they will live. Because there are no refugee camps in Lebanon, the government is concerned that could create a long-term crisis.

One family of 20 from Homs had waited all day to cross at the Syrian-Lebanon border, while another woman said they would stay in Lebanon as long as the situation was bad in Syria.

“We have nothing. We will live with what we can,” she said. “I think we will build a tent and live there.”

The parents’ only worry: keeping their children safe no matter where they ended up.

In Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, families lived anywhere they could.

Aid workers from Save the Children tell ABC News there are refugees living in an abandoned prison. At the former jail, a woman who spoke English told ABC News that five people lived in one cell.

She said that she’d been an English teacher in Damascus; her husband, a banker. Their beautiful home was destroyed in Syria and now she lives in a small cell.

The former prison is now home to more than 60 children. There are bars on the windows and bare cement floors — stark reminders that they are no longer home.

Hamid, 10, saw his neighborhood bombed by President Bashar Assad’s forces. Dead bodies littered the streets.

“I want to see my dad,” he told ABC News.

Another little girl nodded when asked whether she missed her father as well. It has been months since these children have seen their dads.

More than half of the refugees in this crisis are children, according to the United Nations. Many of them have been out of school for nearly two years.

Programs like Save the Children have stepped in to fill some of the need. Save the Children told ABC News that $20 could purchase an entire student kit including pencils, paper and a backpack — everything they need for a school that the organization has set up nearby.

“We are teaching them the basics so they don’t fall behind,” one teacher said.

Funding is limited and only 550 children are able to receive services there. Thousands still wait. For a little more money, a child can get clothes and shoes.

When night falls, the families struggle to stay warm in the dark. It is so cold that families have to cook inside their tents.

Two days ago, 17 of the tents burned to the ground. The families lost everything: clothes, food, blankets, pictures, all of their documents.

“Yes, everything,” one man said. “I can’t even provide for my children....I can’t even buy them a toy if I want. I have nothing to offer them.”

The nights are long and with limited electricity, the families must turn in early. Many of the children are sick. They cough as they go to bed. In the morning, the coughing only gets worse.

Many suffer from respiratory infections and are struggling because of the smoke from the stoves. Despite freezing temperatures, they have only thin clothing and sandals. There is a real need for more food and fuel for cooking, and warmer clothing, including shoes.

Everyone told ABC News that they missed their homes, their families and their ways of life. They are without money and cannot afford phones.

In the former prison, the ABC News crew lent the mothers cellphones so they could call their families in Syria. It had been months since they’d spoken with their relatives.

The sound of “Hello” over the phone line and the smiles that followed said everything.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Avoiding Rape in Syria Top Concern of Women Refugees

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Women in Syria are fleeing their war-torn nation, mostly to escape the threat of sexual violence, according to a report by the International Rescue Committee.

At least half-a-million people have left Syria over the past two years as the Syrian government and rebel forces battle for control of the country.  Another half-million are expected to become refugees in the next six months as the fighting intensifies.

This new study released on Monday is the first to examine reasons why women and girls are anxious about the situation in their homeland, with revelations of gang rapes occurring in front of their relatives or other men.

Officials with the International Rescue Committee, who interviewed refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, say the violence against women includes kidnapping, rape, torture and death.  The group did not assign blame to either the military or opposition forces so as not to take away from the immediate need of dealing with women's problems.

Sexual assault in Syria also carries a stigma as many women are afraid of the shame that will be directed toward them.  As a result, this violence often goes unreported.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


UN Urges $1.5 Billion in Humanitarian Aid for Syria

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Syria needs $1.5 billion more in humanitarian aid, the United Nations said Wednesday, as the number of refugees fleeing violence is expected to swell to one million by mid-2013.

Since President Bashar al-Assad unleashed his military on opposition forces in March 2011, an estimated 40,000 people have died in the conflict, with over 500,000 seeking safe havens in other countries, including Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

According to Panos Moumtzis, the United Nations regional coordinator for Syrian refugees, if assistance from the international community does not arrive immediately, "we will not be able to fully respond to the lifesaving needs of civilians who flee Syria every hour of the day, many in a truly desperate condition."

Roughly two-thirds of the $1.5 billion sought by the U.N. would directly benefit Syrian refugees, while the remainder is earmarked for as many as four million people still in the country who are directly affected by escalating violence between al-Assad's military and rebel fighters.

Attempting to put the scope of the humanitarian crisis into perspective, Radhouane Nouicer, United Nations coordinator of humanitarian aid, said the non-stop fighting means there are virtually no places left in Syria where people can find safety.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Angelina Jolie Visits Syrian Refugee Camp

ABC/Lorenzo Bevilaqua(JERUSALEM) -- The world’s most famous advocate for refugees visited Jordan’s dusty and fast-growing Zaatari refugee camp for Syrians Tuesday, describing it as “a horrific situation and a very, very critical time.”

Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie, in her role as special envoy for the United Nations' refugee agency, toured the camp near the Syrian border that is now home to almost 30,000 refugees. She walked around the camp with top U.N. refugee official Antonio Guterres and Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.

"When you meet so many innocent people and civilians, the people of Syria are asking who is on their side. 'Who is going to help us as the months go on?'" she said.


The U.N. has registered a quarter of a million refugees who have fled the violence of Syria’s 18-month conflict. But the actual number of refugees crossing into neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan is far higher as many don’t register, going instead to stay with family and friends, melting into border towns or going farther afield.

There are around 28,000 refugees at Zaatari, though Jordan has taken in some 200,000, according to Guterres. The camp grows by about 1,000 refugees every day, most crossing at night to avoid detection by Syrian troops near the border.

“At present we’re trying to cope with what we have, but we also need additional assistance,” UNHCR coordinator Karen Whiting told ABC News the day before Jolie’s visit. “Additional funds, and then also additional agencies to come and assist us to help provide protection and assistance to the refugees.”

“The major priority right now is to ensure that we’re ready for the winter which means that we need to take actions right away to ensure that [the refugees] are protected from the elements and that they’re in conditions of safety and dignity,” she said.

Row upon row of white UNHCR tents are lined up in the sprawling camp in the middle of the desert, the paths between them made up of rocks and powdery sand. As the sun raises temperatures to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, the wind lifts huge clouds of sand, sending it across the camp and coating everything with a layer of brown dust.

Even as the Jordanian government and aid agencies insist they are doing everything to make the refugees comfortable, many complain about the conditions, especially the swirling dust.

“There’s no milk,” said Moaz Hassan Bikai, 20, as he cradled his sleeping 8-month old niece. Others gathering around complained of “rotten food” and non-potable water. Many said they would rather be back in Syria than live in the harsh conditions.

Guterres agreed Tuesday that the conditions are “still not acceptable” and called for “massive international funding.” The head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Dr. Rajiv Shah, visited Zaatari last week, promising an additional $21 million in aid.

As vans drove among the tents handing out boxed meals, representatives from Save the Children walked outside the tents with a megaphone, calling on parents to register their children for school. Many have not been inside a classroom since the conflict began a year and a half ago.

Zaatari’s maximum capacity is 80,000 refugees and with more than 100,000 expected before the end of the year, one or two more camps are expected to be built soon nearby.

“We have to be prepared,” said Whiting. “At present the situation would indicate that we’ll be here for a while.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Syrians Fleeing to Neighboring Countries Amount to Monthly Record High 

SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- More than 100,000 Syrians fled their country in August -- the highest number of refugees in one month, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Last month, displaced Syrians made up over 40 percent of the more than 200,000 refugees registered with the U.N. since the conflict started 17 months ago.

Violence in Syria has ramped up recently as President Bashar al Assad's forces have carried out air assaults, cracking down even harder on anti-government groups.  U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday, according to the New York Times, that the fighting in Syria had taken "a particularly brutal turn" in August and urged world leaders to increase humanitarian efforts to help civilians trying to escape the violence.

Additionally, the U.N. reported that another 1.2 million are displaced domestically, and only half of the $180 million requested to help the displaced citizens of Syria has been raised, according to the Times.

Mr. Ban said individuals, on both sides, responsible for human rights violations will be held accountable.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Escalating Violence Fuels Syrian Refugee Crisis

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As violence escalates across Syria, the number of refugees crossing into the country’s four neighbors -- Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey -- almost doubled each night this week, according to the U.N.

“We’ve had approximately 500 Syrians daily seeking refuge from the conflict, but in the last week we’ve recorded 6,000 in Jordan and Turkey,” Panos Moumtzis, the U.N. refugee agency’s Syria coordinator, told ABC News. “That’s more than 850 per night.”

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees issued a revised response plan for Syria last week and increased its appeal for humanitarian funds to $193 million.

Moumtzis said that despite the coordinated effort of 44 national and international relief agencies, without adequate funding, a crisis could face the projected 185,000 refugees by the end of 2012. “We only have 26 percent of what we need. Funding is really, really crucial; or these people who arrive in desperate situations can’t be helped.”

The current turmoil is Syria has displaced more than 75,000 people, but agencies like the U.N. warn that a number cannot really be determined because most refugees do not register with border security, particularly in countries like Lebanon, in which pockets loyal to the Assad regime are hostile to Syrian asylum seekers.

“Nothing in Lebanon even looks like a refugee camp. Because of the politics, many follow the line that Syria doesn’t have an uprising, but terrorists attacking the regime,” Abdul Wahad Sayedomar, an activist whose family comes from Homs and Aleppo, told ABC News. “The north around Tripoli is better, but people seek shelter in private, in flats that are often provided by NGOs, like Mosaic from the U.K.”

Sayedomar, who also works with the British Syria Society, an NGO, added that the only refugees who turn up at the border are, “the lucky ones who either have money or have relatives in Lebanon. Those feeling immediate violence can’t just do that. They wouldn’t be let in.”

Despite local fears of a regionalization of the conflict, around 30,000 Syrians are being assisted in Lebanon. Moumtzis maintained that all four of Syria’s neighbours have been welcoming and “generous.”

“The positive thing is that borders remain open, and the role of these governments has to be applauded,” he said.

None of the four countries is a signatory of the U.N. Refugee Convention, and each regards arrivals from Syria as “guests.”

“They are not refugees, we do not call them refugees,” a Turkish official who asked not to be named told ABC News. “As any Turkish citizen, they’re under Turkish government protection. And we are all very much looking forward to the end of violence, and my understanding is that the Syrians are very much looking forward to returning to their country.”

In Turkey as in Iraq, the government erected temporary camps, on or in proximity to the Syrian border, to house the increasing flow of Syrian arrivals.

“They are not allowed to leave the camps, they’re not allowed to work, but these camps are for the 35,000-plus Syrians who came here. We have eight camps now, and we’re building more. So you see, they’re huge places, something like 5,000 people in each one,” the official explained.

Iraq is currently receiving a lower influx of refugees compared with Turkey or Lebanon; of the 6,000 the U.N. estimates to have arrived so far, the majority are Kurds. In the past month, the Kurdistan Regional Government mandated that all Syrian refugees should be hosted in camps, and most people are awaiting relocation.

“These people do not have a legal status,” said Christoph Wilcke, a Middle East expert from Human Rights Watch, speaking about the spill-over of refugees. “And it’s often a hazardous journey, trying to get through Syria’s checkpoints; they often have to cross barbed wire fences rather than presenting their passports at the border.”

Wilcke’s work is focused on Jordan, and he described how Syrian border guards have effectively closed the road leading to the Jordanian checkpoint, so families and individual refugees have to walk through fields, often at night.

Human Rights Watch Wednesday reported that Jordan is discriminating against Palestinians seeking refuge from violence in Syria. Researcher Gerry Simpson said a dozen Palestinians were detained for months in a heavily guarded housing complex near the border.

“There are increases of people seeking refuge in Jordan. There’s a difference, however, since April, between Palestinians and Syrians coming over. Syrians can get out of initial detention by finding a Jordanian guarantor. Palestinians can’t get that guarantor, which means they remain detained in a small area with no hope of release,” Wilcke explained.

Like Lebanon, Jordan did not designate areas for refugee camps. According to activists, Syrians seeking refuge typically have family ties and are assimilated into communities in that way.

“On the one hand, Jordan is one of the most open countries to refugees in the region and there are family ties there,” said Wilcke. “It hasn’t said, ‘We will send you back,’ but there is a caveat there, as we’re seeing.

“So let’s help Jordan keep the borders open and let’s monitor that they keep their promise to let everybody in from Syria.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


UN Releases Latest Statistics on World's Refugee Population

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The number of people joining the ranks of the world's refugee population grew by another 800,000 in 2011, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Despite this figure, the actual number of those who have crossed over international borders over time to escape from their homes fell from 43.7 million in 2010 to 42.5 million last year due to displaced people deciding to return to their countries of origin.

Afghanistan remains the nation with the most refugees as 2.7 million have left the country to escape the ravages of the 10-year-long war.  Most Afghans who became refugees live in either Pakistan or Iran.

Meanwhile, Iraq has the second largest refugee population even after the war there officially ended six months ago.  It's estimated that 1.4 million Iraqis live elsewhere.

Germany is ranked as the largest host country to refugees over the last four years although the U.S. receives the most asylum requests among 44 industrialized nations.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Oscar-Winner Javier Bardem Takes Up Cause for Western Sahara

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem is fighting to raise awareness about the thousands of refugees being driven from their homes in Morocco-occupied Western Sahara. It's an "injustice," he says, that has been ignored by the rest of the world.

"They are really, really kind of forgotten, in the middle of nowhere," Bardem told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour. "That's what hurts the most, I would say."

More than 165,000 refugees have fled their homes in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, he said, and many are living in "very, very poor conditions" in refugee camps in neighboring Algeria.

Bardem took his cause to the United Nations General Assembly's decolonization committee on Tuesday, where he demanded the international organization take action to end human rights abuses in the disputed territory. Morocco, Bardem said, has been "blocking" the U.N. from sending in human rights officials.

Morocco began occupying the Western Sahara in 1975 as the Spanish colonists moved out. Polisario Front guerrillas waged war against Moroccan forces until the U.N. brokered a ceasefire in 1991. A referendum was part of the deal but has never been upheld, and attempts to establish peace have floundered.

For the past last three years, the Eat, Pray, Love star and Oscar winner has been filming a documentary in the region about the humanitarian crisis. Invited by the Sahara International Film Festival, Bardem spent 10 days living among the refugees as they trickled in over the border shared by Algeria and Western Sahara. He said he was shocked by the conditions he discovered when visiting the refugee camps.

"I realized how much injustice are [sic] in the refugee camps, and, unfortunately, I haven't had to go to the occupied territory because it's very difficult for us to go there, especially with a camera," he said.

A Madrid native, Bardem told Amanpour that, as a Spaniard, he felt the need "to do something for these people."

"I don't know if it's guilt," he said. "It's more. It's more responsibility."

"When you are in the refugee camps, you feel some sense of shame of what we did to them," he said, "and you want to help them in any way you can."

He described the Saharawis as "patient" and "very peaceful" people who are demanding solutions. Western Saharawis born into refugee camps are now willing to take up arms for the cause of their independence, Bardem said, but he cautioned that armed conflict would be a "disaster for everybody."

Bardem has also criticized his home country's government for bowing to Morocco, an ally, rather than taking a stand for the Saharawis' human rights. Married to fellow Hollywood star Penelope Cruz, Bardem is using his celebrity status to bring lots of attention to the situation.

"What I'm trying to do is to really have the right to do what any other citizen has, which is the right to speak and say what I think about certain things," he said. "Of course, you will bring more media attention. In that case, it's good to use that attention in order to help others."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio