"We're pleased they're abiding by their humanitarian obligations," Peter Kessler, the spokesman for the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told IRIN on Friday. "We're now waiting to get access to the border area."
The announcement came at a meeting held on Thursday evening between Syrian Local Affairs Minister Hilal Atrash, and the UN country team. Atrash opened the meeting by stating that as conflict in Iraq had started, so should the humanitarian role of the international community and the government of Syria, adding that he hoped that God would protect the Iraqi people, especially the children.
The minister announced that the El Hol camp would be used to accommodate 20,000 refugees as originally planned, and that in order to satisfy security concerns expressed by the UN, the Syrian government had also reached a decision on the location of two other camp sites inside Syrian territory - one in Abu Kamal, located four kilometres from the border in the west, and the other near the Al-Tanf border crossing further to the southwest. Together the sites would cover all four border crossings from Iraq.
Atrash added that the Syrian government had already begun moving heavy equipment to the two sites, both of which would have the capacity to expand in order to accommodate a larger influx of refugees. Meanwhile, a separate area would be set aside to provide temporary shelter for Third-Country Nationals at each of the camp sites.
Atrash stated that once refugees entered Syria, border security clearance would be provided by Syrian security agencies. He noted that the humanitarian needs of the refugees would be the main criteria for entry into Syria.
He said he hoped these decisions would satisfy the security and legal concerns that had been raised by the UN. He also stated that support for cross-border operations into Iraq from Syria to assist Iraqi people in need would be "without limits".
The minister noted that the government had issued instructions to all relevant institutions in Syria to provide all necessary facilities, clearances and exemptions requested for cross-border operations, adding that with these decisions, the Syrian government reaffirmed its commitment to cooperation with the UN system.
However, he cautioned that Syrian government resources were limited, so it would be relying on the UN, the Red Crescent, NGOs, and local committees for support. The minister concluded by stating that Syria had historically been committed to the UN Charter and UN resolutions. However, if all countries had shown the same level of commitment "we would not be sitting here today".
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