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Syria: UN rights expert calls for urgent and coordinated response to world’s largest IDP crisis

GENEVA (26 May 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, today described the displacement crisis in Syria as “staggering in its proportions” and requiring an urgent and coordinated response from the Government of Syria and national and international humanitarian organizations working in close partnership.

“The situation in Syria has turned into the world’s largest displacement crisis with some 7.6 million people currently internally displaced and the prospects of new displacement high given the instability in many parts of the country,” Mr. Beyani warned after his official mission to Syria – one of the first visits undertaken to the country by a UN appointed human rights expert since the crisis began.

“It is also an extremely complex and challenging crisis to respond to in view of the ongoing conflict, acts of terrorism and the overall security situation, as well as factors hindering an effective response, including the current shortfall in international funding for essential humanitarian assistance and the effects of international sanctions,” said the expert. Mr Beyani visited Damascus, Homs and Lattakia from 16 to 19 May to consult widely on the situation of internally displaced persons.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the Government’s actions to-date to respond to the needs of IDPs. “However,” he said, “I fear that I saw only the very tip of a massive displacement iceberg in Syria.”

“Those that I did see are likely to be those in relatively safe locations and with adequate conditions and services. I am deeply concerned by the situation of many more hundreds of thousands of IDPs and overstretched host families facing dire circumstances, insecurity and lack of basic needs,” Mr. Beyani noted.

The human rights expert, whose visit took place as the ancient city of Palmyra fell to ISIS creating a new flow of displaced persons, pointed out that the main responsibility falls on the Government of Syria, but acknowledged that “it undeniably faces an immense task and cannot cope alone.”

“I was shocked to learn from UN Agencies that funding for essential humanitarian assistance currently amounts to only 18 per cent of requirements,” he said. “The international community must respond and urgently bolster support to humanitarian agencies working tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of the millions of innocent people affected by the displacement crisis in Syria.”

Equally, the expert noted, the Government of Syria must allow UN and other humanitarian actors to function freely in areas under its control and where security allows it, with unhindered access to all locations and IDP populations. “While the Government’s concern for their security is greatly appreciated, bureaucratic and other restrictions on full and rapid access to IDPs and at-risk communities are a major impediment to their work and effectiveness and should be lifted,” he said.

“It is testament to the humanity, generosity and resilience of the Syrian people that the vast majority of IDPs have been housed with families and communities that have absorbed the huge influx of desperate people,” the expert noted. “This places a heavy burden on families and must not be considered a permanent solution to the displacement crisis, but a temporary measure until more durable solutions are possible. Support to host families is also essential.” 

Visiting the old city of Homs, the UN Expert stated “The extent of the devastation brings home the trauma and psychosocial distress that must have affected those who experienced the conflict and were forced to flee their homes, as well as the extent of the challenges facing the Government in rebuilding destroyed buildings and infrastructure for people to return to their homes.”  

Mr. Beyani visited several IDP collective shelters to assess the Government responses to-date. In those facilities he was able to visit, essential needs are being met and IDPs expressed satisfaction with the assistance being provided to them. Parents reported that their children are attending schools and basic medical facilities were provided.

Nevertheless, the expert highlighted that “three or four years after their displacement, many are living in cramped and extremely basic shelters, with several family members sharing a single room. Many are reliant on humanitarian assistance, lack employment and have little prospect of return to their homes or improvement to their living conditions. Some face suspicion of support for armed groups.”

“While the Government has taken valuable policy and institutional steps for the protection of women and children, many remain vulnerable to abuse of their rights and violence, including sexual violence and such measures should be strengthened and extended,” he said. Recognizing that sexual violence is particularly prevalent in ISIS controlled areas, he reminded all parties to the conflict of their responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law and standards.

Mr. Beyani paid tribute to humanitarian workers from both UN Agencies and national NGOs such as the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), and Syrian volunteers who are putting their lives at risk to perform their duties in extremely difficult and often dangerous circumstances.

The Special Rapporteur will produce a full report and recommendations to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16008&LangID=E

Mr. Chaloka Beyani, professor of international law at the London School of Economics, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons by the Human Rights Council in September 2010. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IDPersons/Pages/IDPersonsIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IDPersons/Pages/Standards.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Syria: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MENARegion/Pages/IQIndex.aspx

For further information and media inquiries, please contact Graham Fox (+41 22 917 9640 / gfox@ohchr.org) or write to idp@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en