Wednesday 17 July 2013

Syria averaging 6,000 refugees and 165 deaths daily

Two Saudi mobile bakery trucks to produce 70,000 Arabic pita bread loaves a day

On royal orders, the “Saudi National Campaign to Support the Syrian Brethren” yesterday started operating two massive mobile bakery trucks at two Turkey-Syria border crossings.
Each of the trucks has the capacity to produce 35,000 Arabic pita bread loaves a day for distribution to displaced Syrians in Turkey and contiguous Syrian areas.
One truck was parked at the Bab al-Salam border gate, the other at the Bab al-Hawa crossing.
In New York, three UN officials told the Security Council the conflict in Syria has caused the world's worst refugee crisis for 20 years, with an average of 6,000 people fleeing every day -- and another 5,000 killed every month -- in 2013.
UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres said refugee numbers had not risen "at such a frightening rate" since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
He was speaking to the UN Security Council, which also heard UN assistant secretary general for human rights Ivan Simonovic say that 5,000 Syrians are being killed each month.
UN aid chief Valerie Amos said at least 6.8 million Syrians needed urgent help.
Since the uprising in March 2011 as many as 100,000 people have been killed, almost 2 million have fled to neighboring countries and a further 4 million have been internally displaced. In addition, at least 6.8 million Syrian require urgent humanitarian assistance, half of them children.
Guterres said two-thirds of the nearly 2 million refugees registered with the UN had fled Syria since the beginning of the year -- an average of 6,000 a day.
"We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago," he told a rare public briefing to the Security Council.
Guterres said the impact of the refugee crisis on neighboring countries was "crushing," but said the acceptance of Syrians by countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq was "saving hundreds of thousands of lives."
And he said the "danger that the Syrian conflict could ignite the whole region" was "not an empty warning.”
Lebanon and Jordan are currently the two most affected countries, hosting over one million refugees between them.
“Measures must be taken now to mitigate the enormous risks of spillover and to support the stability of Syria's neighbors, so as to keep the situation from escalating into a political, security and humanitarian crisis that would move far beyond the international capacity to respond,” he said.
Simonovic told the meeting some 5,000 lives were being claimed in Syria each month, demonstrating "a drastic deterioration of the conflict.”
"In Syria today, serious human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity are the rule," he said.
“Government forces carry on with indiscriminate and disproportionate shelling and aerial bombardments, using among other weapons tactical ballistic missiles, cluster and thermobaric bombs, all causing extensive damage and casualties if used in densely populated areas,” Simonovic said.
Ms Amos said $3.1bn was still needed to provide aid in and around Syria for the rest of the year, and she accused both sides in Syria of "systematically and in many cases deliberately" failing in their obligation to protect civilians.
"We are not only watching the destruction of a country but also of its people," she said.
Ms. Amos said while UN agencies continue to deliver assistance, gaps in the humanitarian response remain as access to many affected areas such as Homs and Aleppo is difficult due to security concerns or government restrictions.
“While we know where those considered most vulnerable are located, humanitarian organizations are still not able to get regular, consistent and unimpeded access to millions of affected people,” she said, adding the government has also imposed bureaucratic procedures which have impeded humanitarian workers to access affected areas.
“Some locations remain inaccessible due to active fighting or insecurity. However, there are other areas, sometimes only a few kilometers away from our offices -- including in Damascus and Homs -- where we are not granted authorization to enter.”
Ms. Amos noted that the situation inside the country has worsened, with reports indicating an “open and blatant violation of the rules of war, with total disregard for human life and dignity, in a climate of generalized impunity.”
Denial of access to Qusayr
Denial of humanitarian access and safe passage to civilians trapped in fighting in violation of the laws of war has been a recurring issue during the Syrian armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a report on the eve of the UN Security Council meeting.
A recent Human Rights Watch investigation into the government and Hezbollah attack on Qusayr, near Homs, found the government’s refusal to allow humanitarian organizations access to the town appears to have contributed to several dozen deaths because no safe evacuation routes were available to civilians, and wounded people were denied adequate medical care.
“Many lives in Qusayr might have been saved if the Syrian government had allowed aid organizations to do their job,” said Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. “When people are dying every day, Security Council members should be calling for humanitarian access, not hiding behind political negotiations.”
Several governments and high-level UN officials called on the Syrian government to grant humanitarian access to Qusayr during the fighting in May and June. But the Security Council did not issue a statement on access until the fighting was over due to obstruction by Russia. Russia also blocked a subsequent Security Council statement on Homs where the government is imposing a siege on opposition-controlled areas…
Human Rights Watch interviews with witnesses from Qusayr, including three doctors who had reached Lebanon, indicates that several dozen civilians and wounded may have died from lack of medical treatment in the town and during the evacuation, or during possibly unlawful government attacks on those trying to escape…
On May 19, Syrian government forces, supported by a significant number of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, began a major offensive to retake Qusayr, a Syrian town of about 30,000 people on the border with Lebanon. Opposition forces had largely controlled the strategically important town since July 2012.
For two weeks, government forces subjected the town to intensive bombardment and enforced a siege, preventing food, medical supplies, and other necessities from reaching civilians who remained in the town.
In the months leading up to, and particularly during, the two-week battle for Qusayr, government forces maintained a siege on the town, preventing food, water, fuel, and medical supplies from entering. The lack of electricity and potable water in the town exacerbated the situation…
Dr. Qassem al-Zein, one of the few remaining medical staff in the town during the siege, told Human Rights Watch they tried to bring medical supplies into town through the government checkpoints, but government forces always confiscated the supplies. Cars attempting to smuggle in supplies were attacked on several occasions, he said...

The government’s refusal to allow access to the town by the International Committee of the Red Cross, or other independent humanitarian actors who could have facilitated evacuation of civilians and treated the wounded, appears to have contributed to several dozen deaths… 
Several witnesses told Human Rights Watch about a failed attempt to evacuate 50 wounded civilians and fighters by car in the evening on May 25, for example. About five kilometers north of the town government forces opened fire from a checkpoint, killing 13 people. Those killed included a father whose child lost both legs in the attack…

Information from witnesses indicates that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians and wounded remained in Qusayr on June 4, the day before government forces took control of the town…

Dr. al-Zein told Human Rights Watch he believed the group fleeing Qusayr and neighboring villages consisted of at least 10,000 people altogether, including 1,300 wounded. Others put the total number as high as 15,000.
After rumors started circulating in Qusayr that opposition forces would soon have to abandon the town, civilians started leaving in large numbers on the afternoon of June 4…
Local residents who evacuated on June 4 and 5 said government forces attacked the evacuating groups.

The groups of fleeing civilians, wounded, and fighters came under intensive attacks as they tried to cross the Homs-Damascus highway… during the night of June 7.

The number killed during the evacuation is unknown and estimates vary widely. An activist who is collecting names of those killed during the evacuation provided Human Rights Watch with a list of the names of 29 people killed at the crossing alone. Dozens are still missing, however, according to the activist.
According to medical staff and others, at least 13 people who had been wounded previously died due to lack of medical care, food, and water during the evacuation…

In one case, Walid Khaled Sharouf, an 18-year-old who was wounded in Qusayr by shrapnel in his chest during an airstrike in May died while attempting to flee because he did not get a needed blood transfusion.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch about two incidents in which convoys evacuating wounded, civilians, and fighters struck anti-vehicle landmines that government forces planted on secondary routes. One man who was helping to evacuate people to the hospital in Yabroud on June 9 told Human Rights Watch:
There were about 30 cars in our convoy. This was the only road that the FSA [opposition Free Syria Army] could use to evacuate wounded. When the first car exploded on a landmine, the drivers in the other cars panicked, trying to turn around their cars. Two more cars hit landmines. A tank shell hit the fourth. All the people in the cars died, both wounded and fighters…