KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait, January 30 (UNHCR) – UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Wednesday praised donor countries for pledging more than US$1.5 billion to help Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and those displaced within the embattled country.
He said the funding commitments made at a high-level pledging conference in Kuwait City on Wednesday were "unprecedented" and "generous" and would "enable us to do much more in support of the Syrian people who are suffering so much . . . to make sure basic needs are satisfied."
It was not immediately clear how much of the fresh funding would be allocated to the work of UNHCR, which has been appealing urgently this year for donations for its operations inside Syria and in the major neighbouring host countries – Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. UNHCR, as one of 55 partners working to help Syrian refugees, appealed in December for US$1 billion to provide protection to Syrian refugees between January and June this year under a regional response plan. Prior to Wednesday, UNHCR had received funds and confirmed pledges equivalent to only 22.3 per cent of the total needed.
Guterres took advantage of his address in Kuwait on Wednesday to call again on the international community to support the host countries, who were under immense social and economic strain because of the massive influx.
"International solidarity in support of the host countries must be urgently reinforced," he said in written remarks for the conference. "This is not a question of generosity, but rather one of enlightened self-interest," the High Commissioner added of a crisis that he said constituted a threat to regional and global peace and security.
Guterres also stressed that the Syria crisis had escalated at a staggering pace in recent months. In the first year of the crisis up to early April 2012, UNHCR had registered only 33,000 Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries.
As of Monday, the number of people either registered as refugees or waiting to be registered stood at more than 712,000, with an average of 34,000 fleeing Syria every week this month. The High Commissioner said the true figure was likely much higher. Tallying government estimates with UNHCR registration figures, he said, "We are very close to 1 million Syrians who have left the country."
"We don't see light at the end of the tunnel – more and more refugees are coming," he said, clarifying that there was no sign of the conflict ending soon and the flow drying up.
Most of the money pledged on Wednesday comes from the region, with unprecedentedly high multi-million dollar donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and conference hosts Kuwait, reflecting concern for fellow Arabs and solidarity with the major host nations.
In Lebanon, UNHCR knows of nearly 230,000 Syrian refugees who are scattered across 700 municipalities. There are an estimated 150,000 more Syrians who have not come forward for registration, bringing the total to some 380,000. They have largely been absorbed into local communities, and the government is leading efforts to expand accommodation options.
In Jordan, the number of Syrian refugees who have come forward for registration is more than 222,000. Some 80 per cent live in urban areas, while over 65,000 of the arrivals have found shelter at the Za'atri refugee camp. A second site is expected to open shortly. The government estimates that the total number of Syrians is more than 300,000.
In south-eastern Turkey, some 163,000 Syrians are now hosted in 15 camps. At least 70,000 more are reported to be living in urban areas, which brings the total in Turkey to more than 230,000 Syrians. In Iraq, still struggling with its own transition from conflict to stability, the number of Syrian refugees is now above 77,000 and about half of them live in camps. Some 14,000 more have already been registered in urban centres in Egypt.
The High Commissioner also noted the tremendous suffering inside Syria, where hundreds of thousands are displaced. He highlighted the situation of refugees within the country, mainly Iraqis and Palestinians, of whom almost 400,000 needed special assistance because of the conflict. He urged donors to support these people too and urged all parties inside Syria to respect and protect these people.