Middle East

Qatar welcomes first group of refugees

Syrian refugees pitch new tents at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, January 1, 2013. (REUTERS/Ali Jarekji)

BEIRUT/STOCKHOLM: The first batch of families fleeing the violence in Syria has arrived in Qatar, after initially seeking refuge in Lebanon, the official Qatar News Agency said Thursday.

The QNA said that 42 Syrian nationals arrived in Doha late Wednesday from Lebanon.

“Upon orders from the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Khalifa al-Thani and as part of efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, Qatar has decided to shelter a number of Syrian families and widows fleeing Syria as a result of military operations by the Syrian regime against the citizens,” the QNA reported.

The news agency said Qatar will provide the incoming families with housing, health care, education and livelihood opportunities.

Dr. Antoine Qaimar, a physician assigned by Qatar to provide humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, was quoted by the QNA as saying that the group of Syrian refugees that arrived in Doha Wednesday was the first.

Qaimar said a second group of 28 individuals is expected to arrive in Doha soon. “This is the first initiative of this kind [to be launched] by a Gulf state,” Qaimar said.

Syria’s civil war has turned more than half a million Syrians into refugees. Most of them have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

But new statistics released Thursday said that more than 12 times as many Syrians sought asylum in Sweden in 2012 than the previous year, making the Scandinavian country the top European destination for Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war.

Preliminary figures from the Swedish Migration Board indicate that some 7,800 Syrians sought refuge in Sweden during the past 12 months, compared to 640 in 2011. The agency said around 5,000 of the Syrians were granted asylum in 2012, adding that, “Sweden thereby confirmed its position as the primary destination and recipient country for asylum-seeking Syrians in Europe.”

Although the migration agency said Sweden is the top European destination for asylum seekers from Syria, Germany led the 2012 tally of all asylum applications on the continent, with 64,000 people. France was in second place with 60,000, while Sweden came in third with 44,000.

In Jordan, the UNHCR said Thursday that there has been a steady increase of Syrians fleeing into Jordan over the past two weeks and that the past three days have seen an average of 1,200-1,300 crossing the border.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 04, 2013, on page 8.




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