UN concerned for up to one million Syrians displaced by crisis
THOUSANDS OF Damascus residents continued to flee the escalating violence in the Syrian capital yesterday as the UN’s refugee agency expressed concern for up to one million Syrians internally displaced by the crisis.
UNHCR also highlighted the plight of thousands of Iraqi refugees in Syria who have been caught up in an increasingly sectarian conflict.
According to the agency, between 8,500 and 30,000 Syrians crossed into Lebanon in the 48 hours after the bombing in Damascus on Wednesday that killed several senior Syrian officials, including the country’s defence minister and president Bashar al-Assad’s brother-in-law.
“Borders remain open . . . people continue to flood into Lebanon,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said in Geneva.
Those fleeing are joining more than 112,000 Syrians who have already registered as refugees in the surrounding countries of Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. Many thousands more have fled but not registered, making numbers difficult to determine definitively.
UN humanitarian agencies say three-quarters of those seeking refuge are women and children.
Ms Fleming said in many areas of Damascus and other cities, shops are closing because they are running out of supplies. There are reports that state and private banks have run out of funds.
The number of Syrians forced from their homes but remaining in the country is estimated at up to one million by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which is partnering with international relief agencies.
Among the most vulnerable are 8,000 refugees of other nationalities, most of them Iraqi, who have fled their homes in the Damascus suburb of Seida Zeinab following fighting in the city and threats directed at them. Some 2,000 Iraqi refugees, along with many Syrians, have taken shelter in parks and schools in another suburb.
A number of Iraqis have reported receiving telephone calls accusing them of being Shia Muslims. The violence in Syria has taken on an increasingly sectarian tone in recent weeks, with the country’s Sunni majority fuelling the uprising against the Assad regime.
The Iraqi government has been attempting to evacuate its citizens, sending two aircraft to Syria on Thursday and 80 buses late this week.
In Lebanon, the UNHCR and its partners are already assisting about 30,000 Syrians. The total number of Syrian refugees in the country had been estimated at about 60,000 before this latest upsurge in violence.
Lebanon’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, called for all borders with Syria to be opened to enable those fleeing the unrest to enter Lebanon.
“Open the borders. Didn’t the Syrians host you during the [2006 war between Israel and Lebanon]?” Qabbani said during his Friday sermon yesterday.
The mufti said there were “armed Lebanese people” preventing Syrians fleeing “murder and oppression” from entering Lebanon.
“Do not think Lebanon will be distant from strife. Regional events will affect Lebanon and they will bring great destruction. This is why I call on [Lebanese people] to be concerned about your unity,” Qabbani added.
In Jordan, where the UN has registered more than 30,000 Syrian refugees, authorities are building a camp that will accommodate 115,000 people.