A senior official with the United Nations refugee agency called today for safe passage for Syrians fleeing the mounting violence in their country, where “at least” 2.5 million civilians are in peril and in need of assistance.
“In some areas, insecurity has reached the country’s borders, making escape to neighbouring states especially perilous,” said the world body’s Assistant Commissioner for Protection, Erika Feller, in a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The refugee agency said Ms. Feller visited Za’atri refugee camp in northwest Jordan on Monday during her second visit to the region in a month, and reaffirmed that “innocent civilians were the prime victims of the on-going conflict in Syria.”
“Many were elderly, including one woman who had recently undergone open-heart surgery,” UNHCR said of the camp inhabitants. “Several were clearly traumatized.”
According to UNHCR, Ms. Feller called on both sides in the conflict to ensure that “those who have fled their homes throughout the country were able to reach safety.”
Violence has increasingly gripped Syria since opposition began mounting against the country’s President Bashar al-Assad more than 20 month ago. Civilians make up the vast majority of the at least 20,000 people killed in the conflict, while UNHCR said today that more than 475,000 Syrians were either registered as refugees, or awaiting registration, throughout the region.
The Za’atri camp currently hosts 32,000 refugees, while it has admitted 60,000 since it opened four months ago – with many of those exiting either moving to the local community or returning to Syria, UNHCR reported.
With overnight temperatures now dropping below one degree Celsius at the camp, UNHCR said preparations were “well underway” for the oncoming winter.
The agency also countered what it called “erroneous reports” of children dying at the camp because of the cold, saying that of the four child deaths since 23 November, medical reports indicated two were attributable to congenital defects, and two others to serious diarrhoea.
From inside Syria, the UN food relief agency warned that a recent escalation in the violence had made it increasingly difficult to reach people in the hardest hit areas of the country.
“The food security situation for many Syrians is rapidly deteriorating with the intensification of the conflict and its expansion to more areas,” the UN World Food Program (WFP) said in a news release.
“Bread shortages are becoming more common with long queues in front of bakeries, a shortage of fuel, damage sustained by bakeries, and an increased demand from fresh waves of internally displaced people,” WFP added.
The agency said it had joined other UN bodies in temporarily suspending all field missions beyond Damascus, adding that road access to and from the capital had become “more dangerous.”
WFP also announced plans to relocate seven of its non-essential staff to the Jordanian capital of Amman, though it added that 20 international and 100 national WFP staffers remained in Syria to “carry out the emergency operation,” which is targeting 1.5 Syrians classified as “vulnerable.”
WFP launched the operation in October 2011 with its main partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. To feed the recipients, who are located in all 14 Syrian governorates, the agency said it must acquire 15,000 metric tons of food each month, at a cost of $22 million.
Beyond Syria, the agency said it helped feed 160,000 Syrian refugees in October.
“The Syrian crisis has also negatively impacted the food security situation of neighbouring countries, which depend on food imports from Syria and cross border trade,” WFP said. “Food prices in Jordan, for example, have increased due to the reduction of food imports by nearly 50 per cent and increased demand from new arrivals from Syria.”