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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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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