As influx to eastern Lebanon rises, UNHCR tackles shelter challenge

Making a Difference, 31 August 2012

© UNHCR/S.Malkawi
Syrian refugees at a UNHCR registration centre in the village of Jeb Janeen in the Bekaa Valley.

GENEVA, August 31 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency said Friday it is seeing an increase in the number of Syrian refugees arriving in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, with local charities and authorities reporting about 2,200 people settling in the east over the past week almost double the recent weekly average.

In northern Lebanon, the arrivals rate remains steady at about 400 people arriving every week. UNHCR is adding new telephone hotlines to help the increasing number of refugees seeking to register. The tense security situation in the city of Tripoli last week meant many refugees were unable to make their registration appointments. "The centre is now open and operations have returned to normal," UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said.

UNHCR is also monitoring the situation for refugees in the northern border area of Akkar, which is still affected by shelling from the Syrian side of the border. The villages of Al-Nura and Debbabiyeh, which host more than 80 refugees, saw nearby shelling in recent days.

Meanwhile, the squeeze on shelter across the Lebanon remains one of UNHCR's biggest concerns, with many refugees still staying in schools that are supposed to open in a week or two for the new school terms. Twenty families were evicted from a school in al-Marj, west Bekaa, earlier this week but were allowed to extend their stay following intervention by UNHCR, its NGO partners and the Ministry of Social Affairs.

"We continue to search for alternative shelter for refugees staying in schools, and are running a hotline for refugees who are coming under pressure to vacate," Edwards said. "So far, we've received 20 reports of refugees being pressured to leave. We are monitoring these cases and asking for understanding by local school authorities to avoid Syrians being evicted," he added.

Last week, UNHCR submitted to the authorities a list of 11 abandoned buildings that the agency proposes to refurbish to house refugees. "So far we have received permission to use three of these and are waiting for further approvals for the renovations. We hope the government can expedite the remaining approvals," Edwards said.

In northern Lebanon, preparations are under way to relocate refugees to an abandoned private school in Tekrit. UNHCR's shelter strategy in Lebanon includes a mix of refurbishing buildings to house Syrians and offering cash for shelter grants for the most vulnerable.

Meanwhile in Turkey, two more refugee camps have been opened in the last week to accommodate new arrivals. Together, the new camps can host 23,000 refugees. Another three camps with capacity to accommodate 10,000 refugees each are due to open in September.

A number of refugees who are currently staying in schools, dormitories and gyms in seven cities in the south of Turkey will be transferred to the new camps. The government is now hosting 80,410 people in 11 camps and schools in border provinces.

A further 8,000 people were reportedly waiting as of Thursday to be admitted through the two border posts. Local authorities have informed UNHCR that the border is not closed and that people are being admitted in smaller groups. Meanwhile, UNHCR is continuing to support the government relief effort by providing tents and other items.

In Syria, UNHCR has received lists from authorities specifying which of the schools accommodating people displaced by the conflict will continue to shelter families once the academic year begins in mid-September, along with alternate public premises for use by people currently sheltering in schools. "Our office in Syria plans to undertake urgent work on buildings that can be used as communal shelters to allow displaced to move out of schools before 16 September," spokesman Edwards said.

On Thursday, UNHCR staff visited eight shelters in rural Damascus and confirmed pressing needs for sanitation, bedding, water and food. UNHCR continues to distribute relief items and financial support to the displaced through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Hundreds of mainly Iraqi refugees continue to approach the UNHCR office on a daily basis.

UNHCR's Edwards also said there had been an increase in the number of Syrians fleeing to Kurdistan in Iraq over the past two weeks, with 2,784 people crossing the border. There are now 18,682 Syrian refugees in Iraq.

In a related issue, the Al-Qaem border crossing point is still closed and UNHCR continues to advocate with the Iraqi government to reopen it. The Al-Waleed and Rabia border points remain open. At the same time, Iraqi refugees continue to return to Iraq from Syria 31,459 Iraqis have returned since the escalation of the Syria conflict.

In Jordan, an average 1,400 Syrians per day have been arriving at the Za'atri camp over the past week, bringing the total number who have been received in the camp to about 23,400. In addition, some 200 Syrians elected to return to Syria on Wednesday after signing voluntary repatriation forms. According to local authorities, some 1,700 Syrians have returned voluntarily over the past six months.

Outside the immediate Syria region, some refugee arrivals have been seen further west in Europe, although numbers are still relatively low. Sweden has the highest reported increase with 2,911 Syrians having sought asylum since January, compared to 640 in all of 2011. Other countries report a small increase in numbers. In France, 255 Syrians applied for asylum between January and July 2012, representing a fraction of the 50,000 asylum applications filed last year.

The total number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration as of August 29 was 228,976

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2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

Beyond the Border

In 2010, the Turkish border with Greece became the main entry point for people attempting by irregular methods to reach member states of the European Union, with over 132,000 arrivals. While some entered as migrants with the simple wish of finding a better life, a significant number fled violence or persecution in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq and Somalia. The journey is perilous, with many reports of drowning when people board flimsy vessels and try to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the River Evros on the border between Greece and Turkey. The many deficiencies in the Greek asylum system are exacerbated by the pressure of tens of thousands of people awaiting asylum hearings. Reception facilities for new arrivals, including asylum-seekers, are woefully inadequate. Last year, UNHCR visited a number of overcrowded facilities where children, men and women were detained in cramped rooms with insufficient facilities. UNHCR is working with the Greek government to improve its asylum system and has called upon other European states to offer support.

Beyond the Border

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

UNHCR started distributing emergency relief aid in devastated southern Lebanese villages in the second half of August. Items such as tents, plastic sheeting and blankets are being distributed to the most vulnerable. UNHCR supplies are being taken from stockpiles in Beirut, Sidon and Tyre and continue to arrive in Lebanon by air, sea and road.

Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

Posted on 29 August 2006

Lebanese Returnees Receive Aid

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