As hundreds of people continue to flee Syria on a daily basis, the United Nations today announced it is scaling up its capacity to register Syrian refugees in order to facilitate and speed up their access to basic help and services.
"In Tripoli, north Lebanon, on Monday we opened a new registration facility at the Rachid Karame International Exhibition Centre. This will allow processing of up to 700 people per day," a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told reporters in Geneva.
Syria has been wracked by violence, with an estimated 17,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 17 months ago.
According to UNCHR, there are 157,577 registered refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. However, UNHCR was careful to note that its official figures do not reflect the entire refugee population as many refugees are still waiting or are reluctant to register.
There are currently some 20,000 registered refugees in northern Lebanon alone, and thousands more are waiting to be registered even as new people arrive. The opening of the new registration facility follows an information campaign in Lebanon to encourage people to register, as many Syrians have been reluctant to register, the spokesperson noted.
"While refugees are receiving some humanitarian assistance pending registration, registration is critical to receive medical care and to enrol children in Lebanese public schools, which resume next month after the summer break," Mr. Edwards said.
Throughout the summer, UNHCR has been running remedial classes for children struggling with a different curriculum and language of instruction. Through its partners, the agency will cover the school fees of displaced Syrians so that they can continue their education in September, with the agency estimating that some 4,000 children will enter the school system in the new school year following an increase in registration.
UNHCR also warned that the security situation for refugees in the northern border areas of Lebanon is deteriorating as certain parts - such as the Wali Khalid area, where several hundred refugee families reside - is targeted by shelling from the Syrian side of the border two to three times per week.
"Despite this situation, many families prefer to stay in the unsafe border areas where they have found refuge with host families than move to a collective shelter," Mr. Edwards said.
In addition, refugees are struggling to pay high rent and host families are being stretched as the number of refugees keeps increasing. Many families are now seeking shelter in schools in the north and the east, Mr. Edwards noted, as local communities are unable to host more people.
In the Bekaa valley area, some 94 families are now staying in schools, including 80 in schools that are expected to reopen for the new school term in September. In the north, 51 families are currently staying in operational schools.
"UNCHR is scaling up its efforts to find alternative shelter for these refugees," Mr. Edwards said, adding that the agency is concerned over recent reports of refugees having trouble crossing borders safely due to multiple checkpoints.
UNHCR has reported a significant drop in the number of Syrians crossing into Jordan as people have reported being fired upon by artillery while travelling to the border. Mr. Edwards said UNHCR is working to improve conditions in the existing camps there by installing electricity and boosting medical facilities.
In Turkey, in the town of Karkamis, a new camp is being established and is expected to be open by the end of the month. Overall, UNHCR estimates that the number of refugees in the country has now reached 59,710, with 2,000 still staying in schools awaiting a placement in camps.
Meanwhile, some 25,906 Iraqis have returned to their home country as their houses in Syria were destroyed by shelling and gunfire. Those coming from Aleppo reported being forced out of their homes by armed forces.
In Syria, UNHCR stated that despite the worsening security situation, the agency has continued to distribute relief items such as jerry cans, mattresses and plastic sheets. Health teams continue to operate and psychological counselling is available over the phone so refugees can express concern about threats and ask for assistance.
UN News Service, Syria: UN scales up refugee registration to accelerate access to basic services, 14 August 2012, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/5031c1671ac.html [accessed 26 August 2012]