NCF daily Report on Syrian Issue – The refugees – Report dated 10 August 2012 (early morning)
The Refugee Situation
- A report from James Mitchell, who has been investigating the refugee situation on the Turkish-Syrian border on behalf of the NCF.
- Reports from the NCF team on the refugee situation in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.
James Mitchell on the Turkish Border
“Currently there does not seem to be a huge influx of refugees crossing the border. Where the FSA controls the border it is safe and relatively easy for people to move back and forth from Syria to Turkey. The Syrian army had been shooting at any refugees attempting to cross when they were in control of the border. The FSA are in control of the area North of Aleppo that is close to the Turkish border. The territory around the border is mainly controlled by the FSA, and this is where refugees have been crossing. The opposite had been occurring in the East where government forces were setting fire to grassland to clear cover and stop people crossing the border and escaping from Syria. This has understandably angered the Turkish government who feel that this is a direct encroachment on their land. However with the withdrawal of government troops from Kurdish areas this may no longer be an occurrence. There are less people crossing the border near Idlib where government forces are still strong.
“In Turkey, there is not much FSA presence or influence in the camps. They are sometimes seen outside, waiting for deliveries or to collect something but they are afraid to be spotted around the camps in case they are picked up by Turkish authorities. For this reason, they will only talk to outsiders if they are inside the camps so the Turkish authorities cannot listen to what they say.
“I had immense difficulty entering the camps and therefore am not able to give a detailed account of what life is like inside. It seems that the authorities are doing everything they can to prevent the outside world entering the camps and seeing what the reality of the situation is. I was told that unless I obtained a clearance pass I would not be allowed to enter. The only group that I met that had been able to gain any sort of access to the camps was a small German NGO. They had managed to get school books and other educational equipment through gaps in the fences.
“I estimate the number of refugees that might be living outside the camps is probably between 40 and 50 thousand.
“Turkish authorities welcome Syrian refugees who are now living in towns near the border as well as the camps. The younger generation of Turks are very keen on helping refugees and are welcoming towards them. Older Turks are more reserved and in some cases hostile. In general, the local Turkish population do not seem to want to speak much about Syria or the refugees and do not seem to want to be involved.
“The Syrian refugees have not been protesting in Turkey, in fact, they show astonishing resilience and optimism even though their lives have been devastated by the conflict. They do, however, face a difficult situation, caught between the desire to save their own lives and those of their families but also desperation to protect their beloved country and its future. They are waiting for a conclusion to the current situation and biding their time until they can move back. In terms of their attitude towards a foreign intervention in Syria, there was a difference in opinion. More traditional Syrians from small towns in the countryside were anti-intervention whereas some army defectors were much more pro-intervention.
“There does not seem to be much sectarianism amongst refugees. It appears that they are a united front and although in the area I visited they were mostly Sunnis, there are no obvious religious divides in the camps.
“Most of the camps seem to be well run and the conditions and sanitation is good. In one of the largest camps, Ceylanpinar, the conditions are terrible. The other camps include Reyhanli, Oncupinar, Yayladagi, Altinozu, Apaydin and Boynuyogen (where I visited and spoke to some of the people).”
THE REFUGEES – NCF REPORTS
Current news on the refugees in Turkey
On 2 August 2012, approx 1,000 Syrians, including a defecting brigadier-general, fled to Turkey from the towns of Aleppo and Idlib in Syria. Of those, 20 civilians, including women and children, were wounded. They were being treated at Turkish hospitals. The latest group brought the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey to 45,500, up from 44,000 at the end of July.
In the refugee camps within Turkey the summer heat and the fasting month of Ramadan are compounding complaints about living conditions. There are also rumours that there is mistreatment by the Turkish authorities. There are complaints that there was not enough food for Iftar, the evening meal that ends the day's fast during Ramadan.
Moreover, Doctors in Turkey say they need more help to treat the injured fighters arriving from Syria. Hospitals are struggling to deal with the large number of wounded crossing the border every day.
Fights have also broken out in other camps, amongst the refugees, as well as with Turkish security forces. Turkey has many challenges in coping with the fallout from the conflict in Syria for the past 16 months. Some even suggest that, Turkey may reconsider its current policy of taking in refugees.
Current news on the refugees in Jordan
Jordan finally opened its first large refugee camp on July 29th. This camp is located south of the Syrian southern border in the Jordanian desert. With 142,000 Syrian seeking refugees in Jordan, the Jordanians simply had to act. ‘Reality has pushed us to open this camp,’ Interior Minister Ghaleb Zoubi told a gathering of aid officials during the camp's opening in the hamlet of Zataari, about 11km from the Syrian border.
When refugees first started to flood into Jordan the government provided emergency shelter in the form of metal shipping containers close to the border in Bashabsheh. This was intended to be a temporary solution for the dozens of Syrians crossing the border daily. The Syrians who had settled in Bashabsheh held a protest against their displacement to the new camp. Jordan’s government spokesman Samih Maayteh outlined the dilemma Jordanian authorities are facing by saying, ‘we are implementing a clear plan to serve refugees, and protect all their rights but we also have to protect the rights of the Jordanian state.’ There are fears that the current influx of refugees will overwhelm Jordan’s already limited resources and threaten the country’s stability.
Another refugee centre has been constructed in King Abdullah Park from a combination of containers and tents. Originally built for 800 refugees it is occupied by a number in the region of 8,000. As a consequence the conditions in this camp are difficult but some say the conditions in the tented city in the desert at Zataari are worse. There are reports of no water, sanitation or healthcare. The Jordanian authorities are keen to assert that conditions will improve as more services are provided. The Syrians who have been moved there are unhappy and want to go to their families near the border. Of the more than 140,000 Syrians who the authorities say have already entered Jordan, the majority have been absorbed into communities long knit together by strong family, tribal and economic ties. This is putting strain on Jordanian schools.
When counting the numbers in these camps, Western aid officials have discovered that there are not as many people sheltering there as previously thought, suggesting that families are trying to escape.
Syrian refugees trying to cross the border into Jordan are now being shot at. Jordan has stepped up security along its border to prevent arms smuggling and to stop activists from entering and causing trouble.
According to UNHCR estimates there are currently 39,600 registered refugees in Jordan and the total is steadily rising. This number does not include an additional 2,283 people who are awaiting registration and approximately 50,000 have been identified by local organisations as being in need of assistance.
In an interview with CBS News King Abdullah II confirmed that there are now roughly 145,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. This differs greatly from the UN figures because as well as those registered in the camps, there are the many who have come over to seek refuge with family and are staying all over Jordan.
Current news on the refugees in Lebanon
Lebanon’s higher relief committee announced last month that it would halt the dispensing of aid to Syrian refugees in north Lebanon because of a lack of funds. This resulted in Saudi Arabia pledging approx. $3.7 million for Syrian refugees. The UN helps around 34,000 refugees in Lebanon but some aid groups estimate the total number of refugees in the country as 90,000. Lebanese media confirms that many refugees are not registered and have taken to begging in Lebanon’s towns and cities. Meanwhile, the UAE Red Crescent is providing aid for Syrian refugees in Northern Syria as well as the EU and other Western nations. However, only 33% of the international appeal has been funded so far.
There are reports that Lebanon has deported certain Syrians back to Syria. Security officials claim that they were criminals and thus could be deported but opposition leaders claim the expulsions were ordered by Bashar al-Assad. The growing displacement of the Christian population from Syria is also an increasing problem. The Christian community in Lebanon has struggled to help the influx of refugees.
The United States’ Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said on a visit to Lebanon in mid-July that “The United States also remains concerned that the Syrian regime’s use of violence against its own people is contributing to instability in Lebanon. We stress again the responsibility of the Syrian regime to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty.”
The increasingly volatile situation in Syria has contributed to the conflict spilling over into neighbouring Lebanon. Nadim Shader Hamoud, a Syrian refugee whose home in Wadi Khaled was shelled gave voice to a common attitude: “I was in Wadi Khaled sitting in front of the door with my daughter, and suddenly there was a bomb just in front of us. There were a lot of children with me as well as my daughter” says Hamoud. ”I just want to live in peace. I don't want to blame anybody. I just want to get healthy again and I don't want anything from either party, not the opposition, not the regime.”
Current news on the refugees in Iraq
Since the Iraq government opened its border to Syrian refugees, thousands have crossed the eastern border towards Iraq, mostly Kurds. Out of all Syria’s neighbours Iraq has let in the least number of refugees. Iraq’s concern is its porous border with Syria. There is a belief that a newly resurgent Al Qaeda will be able to flow both ways across the border. Baghdad is clearly watching the Syrian crisis closely. If Assad were to fall and be replaced by a conservative Sunni government, this could revive the hopes of Iraq’s minority Sunni community that Nuri Al- Maliki’s Shia alliance could be toppled. Another of Maliki’s worries is the possible influx into Iraq from Syria of thousands of refugee Kurds. This would serve to strengthen Kurdish claims to both Kirkuk and its oil.
Iraq has officially received 8,445 refugees however the UN High Commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres says there may be many more unregistered. Syrian refugees have not been treated well in Iraq. Refugees have been allocated some school buildings and one mosque and are kept under Iraq Army control. Only those with Iraqi passports or visas are allowed out to see family and friends. The suffocating restrictions placed on them in Iraq have led many to call for a return to Syria.
There has been growing anger over the Iraq government’s treatment of Syrian refugees. This resulted in a demonstration by Iraqis after Friday prayers in the city of al-Qaim. The Iraq government justifies the situation by stating that the sudden flow of refugees increases security risks in Iraq.
Following the march on Friday, a high-profile delegation from Baghdad was sent out to the region. An agreement has been reached whereby refugees would be able to leave the shelter provided that they had relatives who could ‘sponsor’ them, and provide written guarantees to the government that they are staying with the ‘sponsor’.