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

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.

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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.

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