The first six months of 2011 have seen a series of dramatic events in
the Arab World. UNHCR has received queries about the resulting impact on
international protection inside affected countries. With some
exceptions, and despite ongoing events, crucial protection space has
thus far remained open.
In Egypt, UNHCR operations have remained at the same level as before
the events of this past spring. The border with Libya has remained open
and the large numbers of people arriving in Egypt have had access to
safe haven, including in many instances being hosted by Egyptian
With Libya, UNHCR’s ability to provide protection to around 8,000
refugees inside the country was substantially constrained even before
the current crisis there. At present we maintain only minimal
operationality in Tripoli and we are beginning to operate in the East.
UNHCR is particularly concerned for the situation of sub-Saharan
Africans needing protection. Some of this population remains in Libya
while others have left. For those remaining in Libya the situation is
particularly threatening, with people at risk of hostility from both
pro- and anti-government groups because of perceived association with
Not counting Palestinian refugees falling under the mandate of the
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the
Near East, the largest recipient country in the region for refugees is
Syria. Here, borders have remained open to Iraqi refugees and refugee
protection space has been fully preserved. Schools continue to receive
refugee children, health services continue to be provided, and ongoing
events are not meaningfully impacting the refugee population. UNHCR,
together with its national partners, is continuing to work to provide
significant assistance to large numbers of Iraqi refugees, and we are
seeking ways to restore resettlement levels to previous highs.
In the past, UNHCR operations in Tunisia were constrained, however that
has changed dramatically this year. Tunisia is keeping its borders open
to the very large numbers of people fleeing Libya. And in the case of
those who are seeking asylum, that has been fully granted. Children have
been allowed to go to school, and medical and other support has been
provided. We have recently signed a cooperation agreement with the
government and we are intensifying our engagement to help meet needs.
Yemen’s hospitality norms towards refugees and asylum seekers have
prevailed thus far despite political instability and accompanying
insecurity. Nonetheless the risks continue to be substantial. In early
June two Somali refugees were killed in clashes between tribesmen and
security forces near the capital Sana’a. UNHCR has maintained its
programmes to support more than 100,000 refugees but our staff are
contending with insecurity levels that impose physical limitations on
the work they can do.
Overall, UNHCR believes that despite ongoing events, protection space
inside countries of the region has not been substantially degraded.
Traditions of Islamic and Arabic hospitality towards refugees endure,
and UNHCR has for the most part been able to continue its work. It is
our hope that this situation will continue.