UN refugee chief warns against 'internationalisation' of Syrian conflict

13.02.2018

Head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, warned on Monday against the "internationalisation" of the conflict in Syria, after tensions escalated between Damascus and Israel.

"This internationalisation of the Syria war is what needs to be avoided because it takes us away from a solution," Grandi said during a visit to the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan. "The escalation of the war, the new dimensions are of extreme concern," he said. "Once again, we are witnessing the extended failure of political action by states to help Syrians find a solution."

Tensions escalated on Saturday when Israel said it had downed an Iranian drone which flew from Syria into Israeli territory. Israel subsequently launched strikes inside Syria against "Iranian targets." An F-16 conducting the bombing raid crash-landed in Israeli territory and two pilots ejected after coming under Syrian fire.

This is Grandi's third visit to Jordan since he took the top post in November 2015. He will visit Turkey on Wednesday and then Lebanon before heading to Syria next month. One of the goals of his visit is to talk to the government to allow more humanitarian access by UNHCR and other agencies to civilians.

"I will be there as we enter the eighth year of this war. We have to ask ourselves how long will the war continue," said Grandi, who visited Syria last year.

He said that the number of Syrian refugees being deported from Jordan back to Syria has decreased. Moreover, the number of refugees who willingly applied to go back from Jordan remains low, where 15,000 went back last year.

"It is a small number because people do not feel secure," he added, calling on the United States and other western nations to accept more Syrians for resettlement.

Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, visited an employment office opened late last year in Zaatari, to help refugees secure legal work. He also visited the solar plant that provides the camp with electricity.

The Zaatari refugee camp, located some 80 kilometres north-east of the capital Amman, opened in 2012. It is the largest camp in Jordan housing almost 80,000 Syrian refugees, many of who have been living there for several years.

Earlier on Monday, Grandi visited Jordan's Azraq camp, which is home to more than 30,000 refugees. He arrived in Jordan on Sunday and met with Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi. Jordan currently hosts at least 657,000 Syrian refugees.

There around 5.5 million refugees who escaped the conflict in Syria to neighbouring countries: Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

The conflict began in 2011 with anti-government protests against President Bashar al-Assad.    (dpa)

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