UNHCR assessment team finds dire living conditions in Homs

News Stories, 30 November 2012

© UNHCR/S.Malkawi
Syrian refugees in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

GENEVA, November 30 (UNHCR) Staff from the UN refugee agency have visited Homs this week and said thousands of displaced people are living in dire conditions in the conflict-battered Syrian city.

The UNHCR team, whose two-day mission ended on Thursday evening, said many people were staying in unheated communal shelters and they also reported that half of the city's hospitals were not functional and there were severe shortages of basic supplies ranging from medicine to blankets, winter clothes and children's shoes.

The team, led by UNHCR Representative in Syria Tarik Kurdi, also said the agency's partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), had registered 250,000 displaced people in and around the city.

"During their mission, the team met SARC counterparts and briefed local officials on UNHCR's operations in the area, including the provision of non-food aid supplies," UNHCR spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told journalists in Geneva on Friday. The team included UNHCR Syria's shelter coordinator to assess the feasibility to engage in shelter rehabilitation.

UNHCR, which has more than 350 staff in five locations across Syria, has been present since mid-November in the city, but has been providing assistance there through SARC since June. The team visited two communal buildings, one housing 70 families (400 individuals) and another one with more than 400 families, the largest such shelter in Homs.

"Local solidarity networks have been formed and are providing very organized help to local residents, but the needs are acute," said Fleming. "Many children have not been to school for the last 18 months. Some city hospitals have been converted into communal shelters and 60 per cent of Homs doctors have left, along with other medical personnel. There are serious shortages of medicine and medical equipment," she added.

With the onset of winter, UNHCR plastic sheeting is being used to cover open doorways and missing windows in collective centres, as well as to partition rooms. None of the buildings were heated, and there is a shortage of blankets, winter clothes and shoes for children.

During the mission, nine UNHCR trucks carrying urgent winter assistance arrived in Homs with 6,000 quilts, 12,000 sleeping mats, 13,000 winter blankets, 1,000 mattresses and 6,000 boxes of sanitary napkins. More aid supplies are scheduled for delivery in the coming days to complete relief shipment for some 15,000 people.

"We intend to further scale up our winter response with more deliveries of heavy blankets, quilts and mattresses. We are also identifying new humanitarian partners to expand our local distribution network," Fleming said.

The spokesperson added that UNHCR continued to work flat out to help Syrians who have fled to neighbouring countries. "In Lebanon, we are working with a recently formed inter-ministerial committee to better coordinate efforts to help Syrian refugees and affected Lebanese communities," she said.

UNHCR registered close to 7,000 refugees last week in Beirut, northern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon, bringing the total number of those receiving assistance from UNHCR and partner agencies in the country to 133,349.

"Preparations for winter remain a priority," Fleming said. So far in November, UNHCR, the World Food Programme and other partners have distributed food vouchers, blankets, mattresses, carpets, heaters and, most recently, valuable fuel coupons to some 50,000 refugees.

Renovations on buildings and collective shelters to house refugees are also continuing, along with the provision of cash so refugees can make rental payments. Provision of mattresses, blankets and household items continues. All refugees live in Lebanon's towns and cities, not in camps.

In Jordan, arriving Syrian refugees continue to tell UNHCR they were targeted en route to the border. "UNHCR calls on all sides to ensure that civilians have access to safe passage," Fleming stressed. Refugees are citing generalized violence, targeted threats against individuals and their families, and a breakdown of basic services as the reasons they fled their country. Jordanian hospitals receive injured refugees on a daily basis.

This perilous journey is particularly tough for women and children, whom UNHCR staff report are often visibly traumatized. Women still recovering from childbirth are making the journey. On Thursday, a Syrian woman crossed into Jordan with a 12-day-old baby. "Many families are opting to sedate their children during the journey, they say, to keep them calm and quiet," the UNHCR spokesperson noted.

Also in Jordan, UNHCR has seen media reports of underage marriages involving Syrian refugee girls. The refugee agency has been working with partners to increase awareness among refugee families, religious leaders and others about this. Jordanian law prohibits marriage for those who are 18 or younger. An inter-agency assessment is being undertaken to determine the extent of the problem and identify future interventions.

Across the region, the number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration in the region is now more than 465,000. Authorities estimate there are tens of thousands more Syrians across the region who have not come forward yet to register for assistance.

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UNHCR country pages

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

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