Syrian refugees ‘to frightened’ to return home: UN

Beirut: Ongoing warfare in Syria has made millions of impoverished Syrians living in exile too fearful to fulfil their dream of going home, the UN refugee agency’s chief Filippo Grandi said on Friday.

“With fighting in parts of Syria as fierce as at any point during the conflict, refugees are understandably still too frightened to return,” Grandi said.

UNHCR is making preparations but the security situation needs to improve considerably before Syrian refugees can return home to their homeland from neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and from Egypt, the agency said.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Syrian refugees are living below the poverty line and over three quarters of refugees in urban areas of Jordan and Lebanon are unable to meet their basic food, shelter, health or education needs, according to UNHCR.

Of the 1.7 million school-aged Syrian refugees, 43 per cent are still not attending school. National public school systems in host countries have been forced to organise second shifts to accommodate the Syrian students and need much more help, UNHCR said.

“While the focus is on the devastation inside Syria, we should not forget the impact on host communities in the neighbouring countries and the effect that so many years of exile has had on refugees,” Grandi said.

“As long as there is no political solution to the conflict, the international community must step up its investment in the host countries.”

He urged firm financial pledges from donors an international conference on Syria (Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region) being held in Brussels on April 24-25.

UN agencies and some 270 NGO partners in December released the 2018 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan – a 4.4 billion dollar blueprint to aid refugees and the communities hosting them.

But so far a “wide” funding shortfall exists, said UNHCR.

“In 2017, the international response received only half of required funding,” the agency said.

Grandi is currently in Lebanon, where he spent three days meeting senior government officials and some of the nearly one million registered Syrian refugees living there – the second largest number after Turkey where 3.5 million Syrians are being hosted.