UNHCR to help 30,000 Syrian refugees through ATM cash programme

News Stories, 6 February 2013

© UNHCR Lebanon
ATM cash programme

TRIPOLI, Lebanon, February 6 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency plans to expand a cash assistance programme utilizing ATM cards to 30,000 Syrian refugees by March after the recent completion of a pilot programme for 200 families in northern Lebanon.

The programme is aimed at benefitting the most vulnerable refugees registered with UNHCR and the money allowance will help them pay for daily living costs, including food, rent, transport, fuel and clothing, and thus become more self-sufficient.

Under the pilot programme conducted in the last week of January, each family received a minimum of US$150 plus an additional US$25 per family member. Under the expanded programme in the northern town city of Tripoli and the neighbouring district of Akkar, families will receive an average of US$240 a month.

The monthly amount was adjusted upwards based on data gathered during the pilot exercise. Under an agreement with a local bank, the refugees can withdraw money using ATM cards.

The refugees have no obligation to repay the money, which will also help them contribute to the local economy and thus assist the host community and enable the refugees to integrate more smoothly.

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees has helped push up prices and made life harder for all. Many families arrive in Lebanon with no financial resources while other have used up their savings. And unlike Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, there are no refugee camps in Lebanon, so many Syrians in Lebanon need help.

Refugees who took part in the pilot programme have welcomed the scheme. "It's incredible to think that UNHCR is treating us in a way which gives us so much freedom and independence," said Salam, a mother of two. "Do you know what this means to someone who has lost everything?" she asked, adding: "Dignity this is what it gives us."

As part of the pilot project, refugees in need of cash aid have been identified by UNHCR and its partners field visits are a key part of the process, along with registration data, increased outreach, community mobilization and liaison with local authorities.

In one typical case, UNHCR staff found Talal living with his wife and six children in the attic of a bakery in Tripoli's Beddawi suburb. "We live here because it is free. We have no money to go anywhere else," said the Syrian as he crouched beside the only bed in a corner of the dark room. He was advised to register with UNHCR, which would make him eligible for support.

Samar, a widow and mother of three, has been living in a dilapidated house in one of Tripoli's most impoverished neighbourhoods since fleeing to Lebanon from the Syrian city of Homs in June last year. She was reluctant to leave her two young daughters at home while she looked for work, so her 12-year-old son, Ali, became the family breadwinner, earning US$20 a week as a porter.

"It broke my heart every time he left for work," recalled Samar, who was included in the pilot cash aid programme. With the monthly grant, Ali no longer has to work and can continue his education. "Ali can leave work now and focus on his school. In Syria he was the top of his class," his happy and proud mother told UNHCR.

With no end in sight to the conflict, tens of thousands of Syrians continue to flee their homes, many seeking shelter outside Lebanon. More than 720,000 Syrians are now either registered as refugees or awaiting registration in neighbouring countries, including almost 240,000 in Lebanon.

By Bathoul Ahmed in Tripoli, Lebanon




UNHCR country pages

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

To encourage poor Iraqi families to register their children, UNHCR plans to provide financial assistance to at least 25,000 school-age children, and to provide uniforms, books and school supplies to Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR. The agency will also advise refugees of their right to send their children to school, and will support NGO programmes for working children.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Iraqi Children Go To School in Syria

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The UN refugee agency is increasingly alarmed over the continuing violence in Iraq and distressed about the lack of an international humanitarian response to deal with the massive numbers of people being displaced. After an assessment mission in November last year, UNHCR officials warned that the agency was facing an even larger humanitarian crisis than it had prepared for in 2002-03. But UNHCR and other organisations are sorely lacking in funds to cope with the growing numbers of displaced.

In an effort to fill the massive gap in funding, UNHCR in January 2007 launched a US$60 million appeal to cover its protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within strife torn Iraq.

The longer the Iraq conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

Posted on 5 February 2007

Iraqi Refugees in Syria: 2,000 New Arrivals Daily

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UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

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