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EU Increases Humanitarian Aid To Syrian Refugees


The ceasefire in Syria looks to be in jeopardy. Government troops are continuing to pound parts of the central city of Holmes with rocket and mortar fire. The government says it's responding to attacks by rebels in the city. There are also reports of continuing violence elsewhere in the country. Thousands have been killed in the yearlong conflict, and more and more refugees are fleeing to neighboring countries, including Turkey and Lebanon.

The European Union recently increased its assistance to victims of the ongoing violence in Syria. Kristalina Georgieva is the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response. She joins us now. Thanks so much for coming in.

KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA: Thank you for having me.

NEARY: How many people have been displaced by the violence, and how has the European Union responded?

GEORGIEVA: Well, so far we have an estimate of over 200,000 Syrians displaced inside Syria, and at least 45,000 who have fled the country. And on top of it, not very well known, is the 600,000 refugees that have taken home in Syria, from Iraq and from Palestine. So their fate is also quite a source of worry because of the violence in the country.

NEARY: And are those refugees still in Syria?

GEORGIEVA: They're still in Syria. Many of them are desperate to leave. The Palestinians are keen to run either in Jordan or in Lebanon. As you can imagine, the Jordanian and Lebanese authorities are very worried because a massive increase of the number of Palestinians on their territory may impact a very delicate balance and cause insecurity for these countries.

For the Iraqis, we don't have the same expectations that they will run back to Iraq at this point, but also, people are desperate there looking for help from wherever they can get it.

NEARY: Now, I understand that there have been reports that President Bashar al-Assad's government has actually stopped women and children from leaving the country, from fleeing. What do you know about that?

GEORGIEVA: We get the same information, that leaving the country is not easy. And that explains why the number of internally displaced people is so much higher than those that are refugees, basically outnumbering, four to one, in terms of displacements, vis-a-vis going to neighboring countries.

The Turkish authorities have done a very good job to receive refugees. They're now getting worried that if the situation continues as it is, numbers may increase despite reports we get for restrictions on movement. They think that there is a chance - and actually, I agree with that - there is a chance a long, protracted crisis that, sooner or later, would lead to a larger wave of refugees.

They have turned to the international community for burden sharing, and we are actually now in discussions with Turkey, how we can do the right thing, help them to help Syrians.

NEARY: How are you getting aid to those who are refugees, internally? I mean, is it difficult to get...

GEORGIEVA: Very difficult. The only organization that has been effective in providing assistance inside Syria, so far, has been ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross. They work in partnership with the Syrian's Red Crescent, they have been able to deliver ambulances, medical care, foot parcels, to thousands of affected people.

But even they do not have unrestricted access everywhere. And actually, the president of ICRC has been asking for access to detainees. This is in the mandate of ICRC. That has been denied until virtually these last couple of days where promises are being made that detainees can be visited in Aleppo. Let's see whether this happens.

NEARY: Kristalina Georgieva is the European Commissioner for Humanitarian and Crisis Response. Thank you so much for coming in.

GEORGIEVA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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