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EU Commissioner Georgieva and UNHCR's Guterres view refugee projects in Lebanon

Press Releases, 17 December 2012

BEIRUT, Lebanon, December 15 -- European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva and UN refugee agency head Antonio Guterres on Saturday praised the people of Lebanon and other nearby states for their generosity toward hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

Ms. Georgieva, the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, and Mr. Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, spent Saturday morning in Lebanon's Bekaa region with Syrians who have fled the violence in their homeland. They viewed humanitarian programmes for both refugees and the Lebanese families who are sharing their homes and resources. The 157,000 registered refugees in Lebanon are scattered across some 500 municipalities, often living in crowded rental housing, with over-burdened host families, or in various types of collective centres and renovated accommodation much of it substandard. There are no refugee camps.

"As we have seen here in Bekaa today, Lebanon and its people have welcomed Syrian refugees with open borders as well as open arms," Mr. Guterres said. "Their generosity is an example to the world, which can also help by supporting humanitarian work here and around the region. That is why we at UNHCR are very grateful to Commissioner Georgieva, to the European Commission and to the EU member states for their combined efforts that have provided more than half of all international aid to date for the Syrian crisis."

Noting that the number of Syrian refugees seeking help in neighbouring states throughout the region has surpassed half a million and continues to climb by some 3,200 per day, Ms.Georgieva said much more needed to be done as the crisis worsens and winter sets in.

"I am here in my capacity as Humanitarian Aid Commissioner to see at first hand the extent of the needs created by the Syrian crisis," she said. "The European Union will not stand idle as the crisis deepens. I have this week released an additional 30 million euros in humanitarian assistance, bringing the total committed so far by the European Union to nearly 400 million euros."

Both humanitarian leaders noted that the huge number of refugees in need of help placed enormous social and economic strains on Lebanon. They urged the entire international community to show solidarity by supporting humanitarian programmes in the country, which would help ensure that borders remained open to Syrians seeking protection.

"I wish to put on record Europe's gratitude to Lebanon, which has shown remarkable hospitality to all refugees coming from Syria," Ms. Georgieva said. Lebanon is also facilitating the work of humanitarians. In this very fluid crisis it is essential that Lebanon and its neighbours keep their borders open.

"For our part I can assure you that we will meet all sudden additional burdens on the country with additional humanitarian funding. We started with seven million euros. We are now transferring funds that will raise our contribution to UN agencies and NGOs in Lebanon to 21 million euros. And more funding will be available very soon."

Mr. Guterres and Ms. Georgieva also appealed to all parties in the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, to provide unhindered access to humanitarian aid and to ensure the safe passage of civilians fleeing the fighting.

"Millions of Syrians are affected by this conflict and hundreds of thousands are uprooted and on the move in search of safety," Mr. Guterres said. "Getting help to them is difficult and dangerous. And those seeking protection in neighbouring countries are often in extreme danger right up to the borders. The safety of the civilian population is of paramount importance."

Another immediate priority is ensuring that every refugee family has protection from the cold as temperatures drop to freezing in some parts of the region. Many refugees show up with nothing. The cold is a major threat, especially for children and those already weakened by hunger and the often perilous ordeal of escaping Syria.

The European Commission is one of UNHCR's largest partners. Its programmes cover a range of humanitarian needs both inside Syria and in the surrounding countries. In addition to UNHCR, its projects are implemented by several humanitarian partners, including several other UN agencies; the Red Cross/Red Crescent and a number of international NGOs.

In Syria, EC-funded projects for displaced people and host families include emergency medical assistance; protection; food and nutritional items; water; sanitation; shelter; winter preparations; and psycho-social care. Vulnerable Palestinian refugees in Syria also receive assistance.

Outside Syria, EC-backed programmes help both refugees and host communities and include shelter; winterization; food; hygiene kits; emergency medical rehabilitation for those wounded; and legal assistance.

Ms. Georgeiva and Mr. Guterres were scheduled meet Saturday afternoon with Prime Minister Najib Miqati before traveling on to Jordan.




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

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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When Syrian refugee Yaser, his wife Amani, and family heard media reports of anti-refugee sentiment among some quarters in the United States, they feared their 18-month wait to find refuge in the country that resettles more refugees than any other could go on indefinitely. But putting their hopes on a new life in the United States, away from the horrors of Syria's war is the refugee family's only way to escape the fear of the past and struggles of the present in Lebanon.