Close to Two Million Syrians Now Either Internally Displaced or Refugees

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Irish Aid Minister Joe Costello posted this photo on Twitter of his visit Monday to the Zaatari camp in Jordan hosting Syrian refugees. More than 2,000 people, mostly women and children, are arriving daily since late last week. (credit: Dept. of Foreign Affairs, Ireland)

Aug. 27, 2013 – The number of displaced Syrians is closing in on the two million mark, about 10 percent of the country’s population, creating the biggest refugee crisis in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq.

The scale of displacement has increased dramatically since March – after the battle of Homs – and even more so since last month, when the International Committee of the Red Cross declared the situation inside Syria a civil war.

Latest figures from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent show 1.5 million are displaced within the country (see map) while the U.N. has registered some 200,000 refugees in neighboring countries (79,000 in Turkey; 45,000 in Jordan; 40,000 in Lebanon; and 16,000 in Iraq).

Thirty-nine percent of the refugees are aged 11 and under.

The figures for internally displaced are estimates and were released before the battle in Aleppo, the escalation of the conflict in Damascus, and the massacre in Daraya last week.

The U.N. Security Council is holding a ministerial meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria on Aug 30 and Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglu, who is attending, said it may be time for the United Nations to create a “safe zone” inside Syria.

There’s little chance of China and Russia supporting such a move with both likely to declare that it amounts to intervention.

Denis Fitzgerald

Brahimi Begins Work Telling Ban He’s Humbled and Scared

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Ban Ki-moon and Lakhdar Brahimi meet in Ban’s office in New York on Friday Aug. 24. (credit: UN photo)

Aug. 24, 2012 – Lakhdar Brahimi met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday telling him that he was “was honored, flattered, humbled and scared” when asked to take on the role of U.N. – Arab League joint special representative for Syria and that he is “still in that frame of mind.”

In a brief press encounter following a photo-opportunity, Ban told him that “you have the full respect and full support of the international community” and that “it is crucially important that the Security Council, the whole United Nations System is supporting your work.”

Whether the Security Council can unite around any proposals that Brahimi puts forward remains to be seen. China and Russia have vetoed three previous efforts to put pressure on Bashar Al-Assad.

Brahimi gave little away in terms of specifics, only saying that the needs of the Syrian people will be put above all others.

“They will be our first masters. We will consider their interests above and before everything else. We will try to help as much as we can. We will not spare any effort,” he said.

Brahimi, who will spend the next week in New York, also met Friday morning with U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos and Jeffrey Feltman, head of political affairs, whose department now has control of the Syria mission, taking over from the department of peacekeeping since the withdrawal of the unarmed observer force from Syria.

Brahimi is meeting with France’s U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, later in the afternoon, his spokesman said. France currently preside over the Security Council and have called a ministerial meeting for Aug. 30 to discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he had asked the foreign ministers from neighboring countries (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey) to attend.

– Denis Fitzgerald

New Title, New HQ as Brahimi Seeks New Solution to Syria Crisis

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Aug. 21, 2012  – Lakhdar Brahimi, the newly appointed United Nations – Arab League joint special representative for Syria, will be in New York later this week, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Tuesday.

The former Algerian foreign minister will also be based out of New York, Nesirky confirmed, unlike his predecessor Kofi Annan, who set up headquarters in Geneva for the four months he spent seeking a solution to the Syrian crisis.

Brahimi also has a different title than Annan, who was joint special envoy for Syria. The new title and new headquarters for his peace mission indicate that Brahimi does not merely want to be seen as a replacement for Annan (a co-member of the Elders) but as someone who can bring his own ideas and experience to bear on brokering a solution.

He’s already incurred ire from the opposition by stating that it’s too early for him to say if Assad should go and angered the regime by describing the current situation in Syria as a civil war.

– Denis Fitzgerald

UN Pulls Plug On Syria Observer Mission

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Major-General Robert Mood and U.N. – Arab League joint special envoy for Syria Kofi Annan arrive at a Damscus hotel to address reporters in this June 22 photo. Mood stepped down as head of UNSMIS in July and Annan announced his resignation earlier this month citing lack of unity in the Security Council. (credit: UN Photo)

Aug. 17, 2012 – France’s envoy to the United Nations on Thursday confirmed that the mandate for the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) will not be renewed when it expires on August 19 and a smaller political liaison office will take its place.

The 300-strong unarmed observer force was deployed in late April to monitor a ceasefire that never took hold and suspended its activities on June 15 due to escalating violence.

“The conditions to continue UNSMIS was not fulfilled, but there was also a consensus (in the Security Council) about the need for keeping a U.N. presence in Damascus,” said Amb. Gerard Araud, president of the council for August.

That presence will consist of small office, some 20-30 people, which will include a human rights component, military advisers, and a demining team. Control of the office will shift from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to the Department of Political Affairs, said Edmund Mulet, deputy head of U.N. peacekeeping.

On Wednesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the death toll in Syria after 18 months of violence is now “more than 18,000.”

– Denis Fitzgerald

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Aug. 10 – Beyonce and Ban at the U.N. General Assembly. Singer Beyonce Knowles chats with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ahead of her live performance on Friday evening. She will sing “I Was Here” in front of some 1,600 people in a transformed General Assembly hall for a music video which will be released […]

Yemen Co-Sponsors Syria Resolution, Skips Vote

Syria’s UN envoy Bashar Jaafari speaks before the vote. He asked member states to vote with their conscience (UN Photo)

Aug. 3 – The 193-member General Assembly on Friday adopted a resolution that condemns the Syrian government’s violent 17-month crackdown and chides the Security Council for failing to agree on tough measures against Bashar Al- Assad.

The measure was adopted by a vote of 133 voting yes, 12 against and 31 abstentions.

Put forward by Saudi Arabia, as current chair of the Arab Group at the U.N., the resolution had more than 50 co-sponsors, including Yemen – yet no one from the Yemeni delegation showed up to vote. It’s one thing not to show up for a vote but to not show up to vote on a resolution you co-sponsored is quite another. A phone call to Yemen’s mission to the U.N. went unanswered and voice mail facility was not available.

Sana’a was not alone in missing the 11am General Assembly meeting – another 16 countries were also absent including Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as well as the U.N.’s newest member state, South Sudan. Other no shows were Cambodia, Philippines and Equatorial Guinea.

Among the 31 abstaining countries were Pakistan and India as well as Syria’s neighbor Lebanon.

The 12 countries who voted no to the resolution were, predictably, Syria along with China and Russia—who’ve double vetoed three Security Council resolutions against Damascus in the past ten months—as well as Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, North Korea, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

A full tally of the vote is here.