UNHCR delivers aid for thousands of Syrian civilians in an embattled suburb of Homs

News Stories, 28 May 2013

© UNHCR/A.Solumsmoen
An aid distribution earlier this year in the Azzas area of northern Syria. Reaching out to the needy is difficult inside Syria.

HOMS, Syria, May 28 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has in the past few days delivered aid for thousands of people in an embattled suburb of Homs, Syria's third largest city. The operation focused on people affected by the recent fighting in the Al Wa'er suburb.

On Saturday, blankets, mattresses and household items supplied by UNHCR were distributed to 200 families displaced from Al Wa'er to Homs, which lies in central-western Syria near the border with Lebanon. On Monday, a UNHCR truck carrying humanitarian relief items for 10,000 people arrived in Al Wa'er itself.

The supplies consisted of 5,500 nappies for babies and the elderly, 4,000 sanitary napkins and 2,000 jerry cans. Two additional trucks, carrying 3,000 hygiene kits, had to turn back because of the security situation.

Al Wa'er is home to an estimated 400,000 people, of whom half have been displaced from other areas of Homs governorate mainly Baba Amer and the old city of Homs.

Heavy clashes between government and opposition forces in Al Wa'er broke out on May 16 and were interrupted by a two-day lull that started on Saturday. Conflict has since resumed. In the course of the recent fighting, at least five buildings hosting hundreds of internally displaced people have been seriously damaged. In one, Alarabaeen Tower, seven members of a single family were killed during mortar attacks. At least seven other people were killed in separate incidents, and UNHCR knows of 32 people having been injured.

The fighting has displaced around 5,000 people, with 250 families having fled to other parts of the city of Homs, where they are staying with relatives. Many of these people have been displaced multiple times. Other displaced people crossed into Lebanon last week: Ten families, comprising 33 people, have registered with UNHCR in Lebanon

A UNHCR team visited one of the IDP shelters in Al Wa'er at the weekend. The shelter, in western Al Wa'er, was hosting 2,100 individuals. The team were told that the shelter had been receiving five families a day since the recent conflict escalation.

"People living there have minimal sanitation, little water and no electricity. Food and medicine were in short supply, and there was an urgent need for mattresses, blankets, and hygiene kits," a UNHCR spokesman said, citing the findings of the team members.

In addition to the focus on trying to deliver additional humanitarian relief to the affected population in and around Al Wa'er, UNHCR is also prepositioning relief items in other areas of Homs itself as a contingency measure for the area.

"UNHCR once again calls on all parties to safeguard the safety and security of the civilian population affected by the conflict. We also reiterate our call for all parties to the conflict to guarantee unhindered access for all humanitarian actors, UNHCR included," the spokesman said.

Elsewhere in the Syria region, UNHCR continues to be concerned about reported impediments in the way of people seeking to cross borders as refugees. Andrew Harper, the UN representative in Jordan, reported on Tuesday morning that some 230 refugees had arrived at Za'atri camp on Monday, with similar numbers at the weekend.

However, crossings are still significantly down from the levels of two weeks ago. Recent problems with border crossings have also been reported along the Syria-Iraq border. It remains essential that civilians seeking to flee insecurity, whether they are internally displaced people or refugees, have safe passage to areas that are outside of harm's way.

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Shelter

One of the first things that people need after being forced to flee their homes, whether they be refugees or internally displaced, is some kind of a roof over their head.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

The port city of Aden in southern Yemen has long been a destination for refugees, asylum-seekers and economic migrants after making the dangerous sea crossing from the Horn of Africa. Since May 2011, Aden also has been providing shelter to tens of thousands of Yemenis fleeing fighting between government forces and armed groups in neighbouring Abyan governorate.

Most of the 157,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) from Abyan have found shelter with friends and relatives, but some 20,000 have been staying in dozens of public schools and eight vacant public buildings. Conditions are crowded with several families living together in a single classroom.

Many IDPs expected their displacement would not be for long. They wish to return home, but cannot do so due to the fighting. Moreover, some are fearful of reprisals if they return to areas where many homes were destroyed or severely damaged in bombings.

UNHCR has provided emergency assistance, including blankets, plastic sheeting and wood stoves, to almost 70,000 IDPs from Abyan. Earlier this year, UNHCR rehabilitated two buildings, providing shelter for 2,000 people and allowing 3,000 children, IDPs and locals, to resume schooling in proper classrooms. UNHCR is advocating with the authorities for the conversion of additional public buildings into transitional shelters for the thousands of IDPs still living in schools.

Photographer Pepe Rubio Larrauri travelled to Aden in March 2012 to document the day-to-day lives of the displaced.

Shelter for the Displaced in Yemen

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

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

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.

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