UNHCR working with Lebanon to help people fleeing Syria

Briefing Notes, 20 May 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 20 May 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR and partners are working with the Lebanese government in the border areas of Wadi Khaled and Tall Bire in northern Lebanon to help families who have fled the violence in Syria in recent weeks.

According to local Lebanese leaders some 1,400 people have crossed into the Wadi Khaled and Tall Biri regions over the past week from the Syrian town of Tall Kalakh. This is in addition to those that have crossed since late April. Local authorities estimate that around 4,000 Syrians have crossed to Lebanon recently. The exact numbers are difficult to confirm.

Last week, care-taker Prime Minister Saad Hariri called on the government's High Relief Committee to supervise and coordinate the response to the humanitarian needs of those displaced in the north. The pro-active role taken by the Lebanese authorities to ensure that new arrivals are assisted is encouraging.

Many of those who have crossed the border recently have come without any belongings; having fled what they say was heavy military bombardment of Tall Kalakh and surrounding areas. Most have found shelter with relatives or host families, and some are residing temporarily in a school in Tall Biri.

UNHCR has participated in a number of distributions of mattresses, blankets and food kits to assist the new arrivals. To date this includes some 3500 mattresses and 1600 blankets as well as over 500 food packages each package can feed a family of four for a month.

Most of the people who have crossed the border in recent weeks are women and children. In addition to their immediate need for food, shelter and medical help, they also need psycho-social support. The latter is being addressed by the Ministry of Social Affairs. UNHCR is supporting these efforts and has established a field presence in the north, working closely with the ministry to assess and provide needed protection interventions.

UNHCR is following up directly with the government concerning reports of individuals being detained for illegal stay/entry and some being returned to Syria.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva: Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 91 38



UNHCR country pages

Stateless in Beirut

Since Lebanon was established as a country in the 1920s there has been a long-standing stateless population in the country.

There are three main causes for this: the exclusion of certain persons from the latest national census of 1932; legal gaps which deny nationality to some group of individuals; and administrative hurdles that prevent parents from providing proof of the right to citizenship of their newborn children.

Furthermore, a major reason why this situation continues is that under Lebanese law, Lebanese women cannot pass on their nationality to their children, only men can; meaning a child with a stateless father and a Lebanese mother will inherit their father's statelessness.

Although exact numbers are not known, it is generally accepted that many thousands of people lack a recognized nationality in Lebanon and the problem is growing due to the conflict in Syria. Over 50,000 Syrian children have been born in Lebanon since the beginning of the conflict and with over 1 million Syrian refugees in the country this number will increase.

Registering a birth in Lebanon is very complicated and for Syrian parents can include up to five separate administrative steps, including direct contact with the Syrian government. As the first step in establishing a legal identity, failure to properly register a child's birth puts him or her at risk of statelessness and could prevent them travelling with their parents back to Syria one day.

The consequences of being stateless are devastating. Stateless people cannot obtain official identity documents, marriages are not registered and can pass their statelessness on to their children Stateless people are denied access to public healthcare facilities at the same conditions as Lebanese nationals and are unable to own or to inherit property. Without documents they are unable to legally take jobs in public administrations and benefit from social security.

Children can be prevented from enrolling in public schools and are excluded from state exams. Even when they can afford a private education, they are often unable to obtain official certification.

Stateless people are not entitled to passports so cannot travel abroad. Even movement within Lebanon is curtailed, as without documents they risk being detained for being in the country unlawfully. They also do not enjoy basic political rights as voting or running for public office.

This is the story of Walid Sheikhmouss Hussein and his family from Beirut.

Stateless in Beirut

Thousands of desperate Syrian refugees seek safety in Turkey after outbreak of fresh fighting

Renewed fighting in northern Syria since June 3 has sent a further 23,135 refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey's southern Sanliurfa province. Some 70 per cent of these are women and children, according to information received by UNHCR this week.

Most of the new arrivals are Syrians escaping fighting between rival military forces in and around the key border town of Tel Abyad, which faces Akcakale across the border. They join some 1.77 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.

However, the influx also includes so far 2,183 Iraqis from the cities of Mosul, Ramadi and Falujjah.

According to UNHCR field staff most of the refugees are exhausted and arrive carrying just a few belongings. Some have walked for days. In recent days, people have fled directly to Akcakale to escape fighting in Tel Abyad which is currently reported to be calm.

Thousands of desperate Syrian refugees seek safety in Turkey after outbreak of fresh fighting

The Winter Triplets: a Bitter Sweet New Year's Tale

The birth of triplets on New Year's Day in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley should have been cause for celebration, but there was a terrible cost attached. The newborns' mother, Syrian refugee Amal, died shortly after giving birth, never having a chance to see her boys.

In a twist of fate, Amal's own mother had died giving birth to her. Amal, whose name means "hope," had been excited at the prospect of having triplets and had been confident about the birth. She named the three boys before they were born - Riyadh, Ahmed and Khaled - and told her husband to take good care of them in case anything happened to her.

The weather in the Bekaa Valley seemed to reflect the torment of Amal's family. Less than a week after she died, the worst winter storm in years swept through the region bringing freezing temperatures and dumping huge amounts of snow across the Bekaa. And so this family, far from home, grieve for their loss as they struggle to keep their precious new members safe and warm. Photojournalist Andrew McConnell, on assignment for UNHCR, visited the family.

The Winter Triplets: a Bitter Sweet New Year's Tale

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Lebanon: Fishing provides a lifeline for Syrian refugees

Samir and Mohammed fled the war in Syria and are seeking safety in Lebanon, where refugees are not allowed to work. They found a lifeline and a hobby in fishing, a skill they learned from local fishermen in the coastal town of Tripoli.

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A transit centre at Vinojug, on FYR Macedonia's border with Greece is where the refugees and migrants pass through on their journey further into Europe. Here UNHCR and partner organisations provide food, water, medical care, psycho-social support and information for refugees who take the train towards the border with Serbia. UNHCR also provides information on how to access the asylum system in the country. In recent weeks, an average of 6,300 refugees pass through the camp every day, yesterday that number grew to 10,000, a record.
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Croatia: Sunday Train Arrivals

On Sunday a train of 1800 refugees and migrants made their way north from the town of Tovarnik on Croatia's Serbian border. They disembarked at Cakovec just south of Slovenia. Most of the people are Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi. Their route to Western Europe has been stalled due to the closing of Hungarian borders. Now the people have changed their path that takes through Slovenia. Croatia granted passage to over 10,000 refugees this weekend. Croatian authorities asked Slovenia to take 5000 refugees and migrants per day. Slovenia agreed to take half that number. More than a thousand of desperate people are being backed up as result, with more expected to arrive later Monday.