ANKARA, Turkey, March 11 (UNHCR) – UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Monday hailed Turkey for its assistance and policy towards tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, including the launch of a government operation to register refugees in urban areas.
Previously, official Turkish government figures only included the 186,000 refugees hosted in 17 state-run camps. But with growing numbers of Syrians seeking assistance in towns and cities, the government recently decided to include urban refugees.
Some 40,000 refugees in urban areas have been registered to date under the new policy with a further 30,000 waiting for appointments to register. Guterres, who is in Turkey on a three day visit, called the new urban refugee registration system "innovative and an example of best practices."
He said UNHCR planned to contribute to the effort by offering its expertise to expand capacity and identify the most vulnerable refugees and those with special needs. "Registration is essential for refugee protection," he stressed.
During his visit, the High Commissioner signed a cooperation agreement with the Prime Minister's Disaster Relief Agency (AFAD) to fund 10 more registration centres. He also signed an accord with the Turkish Red Crescent on cooperation in logistics, emergency and contingency support to UNHCR's operations globally. UNHCR is funding the production of an additional 18,500 tents through the Red Crescent.
Registration of refugees and camp management are coordinated by AFAD, with operational support from the Turkish Red Crescent and other agencies. UNHCR provides technical advice and assistance.
Guterres, in a press conference with AFAD President Fuad Oktay on Monday in Ankara, called on the international community to "establish a much stronger bilateral cooperation with Turkey, supporting this remarkable effort, not only helping refugees but contributing to the stability of the region. "
The High Commissioner stressed that refugee figures in neighbouring countries – which passed 1 million last week – would soar if the conflict in neighbouring Syria continued to escalate. "We could have up to 3 million by the end of the year if the war doesn't stop. Our key objective is to make sure that, whatever the dimension of the tragedy, borders and protection space remain open," he said
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoĝlu, in a meeting with Guterres on Sunday, had reiterated that in Turkey's case all Syrians were welcome, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. Since the crisis erupted, Syrians arriving in Turkey have been offered refuge and assured that they would not be returned to their country against their will. The High Commissioner said the standard of assistance provided by Turkey to Syrians was a "remarkable example of refugee protection."
Meanwhile, Guterres earlier today met some of the Syrians living in camps when he toured Nizip Camp, home to almost 9,000 refugees in the province of Gaziantep. In one tent, as the TV flickered in a corner, widow Raeda Abdulrahman told the High Commissioner that she had fled from the town of Idlib because she was scared of the constant shelling.
Flanked by four of her children, the refugee said she was worried about her daughter and her son-in-law, who had stayed behind. "There is no electricity or telephone there, so I have lost contact," she said, adding: "Here though we have everything. We are able to sleep here in Turkey. No shelling."
By Melissa Fleming in Ankara, Turkey