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.

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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

Surviving the Storm

A fierce winter storm swept through the Middle East this week bringing icy temperatures, high winds and heavy snow. In Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, more than 400,000 refugees have been enduring freezing conditions since snow levels not seen in many years arrived. Refugee accommodation in the Bekaa ranges from abandoned buildings to garages, sheds, apartments and informal settlements. Conditions are most difficult in the settlements, with roofing on makeshift shelters liable to collapse under the weight of the snow.

Although a great deal of winter aid has been provided, UNHCR remains concerned. Despite the agency's best efforts, the situation in Lebanon remains precarious for refugees, given the extremely poor conditions in which they live and the scattered nature of the population. It is a constant challenge to ensure that refugees across more than 1,700 localities remain safe and warm during the winter months and have sufficient resources to withstand severe storms.

Photojournalist Andrew McConnell spent two days in the Bekaa Valley, documenting the situation for UNHCR.

Surviving the Storm

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