The U.N. refugee agency said on Tuesday that the number of refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict rose sharply in August, with 103,416 people seeking asylum in surrounding countries. It was the highest monthly total of the Syrian crisis to date and brought the total number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration to more than 235,300.
UNHCR's chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a news conference in Geneva that Iraqi refugees in Syria continue to return to their country by hundreds. "Most tell us they are leaving because of general insecurity, although some have reported direct threats," she told reporters.
During the weekend a taxi used by Iraqi families to return to Iraq was hijacked, while UNHCR outreach workers said three Iraqi refugees were killed last week in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, raising fear among the refugee population there. According to the Iraqi government, 35,000 people returned to the country in July and August.
UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent continue to expand operations to support displaced Syrians. The refugee agency has launched a program of financial assistance for displaced families in Al-Nabek, a town located between Damascus and Homs where large numbers of displaced people have sought safety.
Fleming said that "based on experience of supporting Iraqi refugees, and feedback from displaced families, financial assistance is proving to be the most effective way of supporting vulnerable families in the constrained security environment in much of Syria."
UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent hope to expand this program to 35,000 families (around 200,000 people) in the coming months. To date, 730 displaced families have benefited, in addition to the 8,500 Iraqi refugee families (around 35,000 individuals) currently receiving financial assistance from UNHCR.
Among neighboring countries, Iraq has seen a significant increase in the number of Syrian Kurds arriving in the past week, with an estimated 500 Syrians crossing a day. In the Kurdistan region, the authorities have agreed to work with UNHCR on a program for urban refugees. They have also agreed to the establishment of a second camp, which will mainly accommodate Syrian Kurds.
In response to the large numbers of Iraqis returning home, the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration is expediting the registration process for returnees to enable them receive government assistance for their reintegration in the coming weeks and months.
In Jordan, refugees continue to arrive at a rate of about 1,000 a day. There are reports about an increasing number of displaced people in southern Syria. The Jordanian government, UNHCR and partners are making preparations in the event of a large influx, bringing in relief items for 150,000 people.
In Lebanon, UNHCR is this week opening a mobile registration center in Baalbeck in the eastern Bekaa Valley in response to the increasing number of displaced Syrians who are settling in the area. There are now more than 59,000 displaced Syrians who are registered or are awaiting registration with UNHCR in Lebanon.
Turkey is hosting 80,410 Syrian refugees. Some refugees have returned home reportedly due to a shift in conflict areas or because of concerns for their property amid rumors of looting.
Meanwhile, there is still a backlog of Syrians waiting to be processed at the border with around 8,000 believed to be waiting to cross. They are being given food, water and medical assistance at the border and will be allowed to enter Turkey gradually. The Turkish government continues to assure UNHCR that the borders will remain open to refugees.
by RTT Staff Writer
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