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UNHCR's largest delivery of relief items for displaced Syrians departs Dubai

Press Releases, 15 August 2013

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, August 15 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is sending the largest shipment of emergency relief items so far this year from its Dubai-based global stockpile intended for persons uprooted within Syria.

The relief items, traveling in 33 trucks, are leaving Dubai beginning today (15 August).

Amongst the items being shipped across the Arabian peninsula from Dubai are blankets for 100,000 people, more than 27,000 kitchen sets for some 139,000 people and 50,000 jerry cans that will help more than 125,000 people.

The relief items will travel by road across the UAE and Saudi Arabia for delivery to UNHCR's forward warehouse in Jordan, from where the goods will be sent into Syria.

"UNHCR is working inside Syria and in neighbouring countries to help people uprooted by the war," said UNHCR's Amin Awad from Amman. Awad is Director of the agency Bureau for the Middle East and North Africa and Regional Refugee Coordinator.

"This shipment of relief items will ensure thousands of vulnerable Syrian families have the necessary aid they require amidst the horrific conflict," Awad declared.

Over 2013, UNHCR has distributed urgently needed relief items to more than 1.6 million people inside Syria, many of them displaced by the conflict that is now in its third year. To-date, UNHCR field teams have distributed more than 3.6 million relief items inside Syria including within many besieged areas.

"In the last week UNHCR and its partners sent a convoy of nine trucks into the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib with UNHCR relief items for 10,000 people living in the city that is still the scene of active fighting," said Tarik Kurdi, UNHCR Representative in Syria.

In Damascus, UNHCR is currently completing its second distribution of cash assistance to internally displaced Syrians. So far this year, more than 36,000 people from more than 6,900 families have been assisted in Damascus with aid totalling more than US$980,000 in Syrian Pounds. Most of the internally displaced persons in Damascus that qualify for the UNHCR cash assistance program fled Adra, a city northeast of the Syrian capital. Throughout Syria, UNHCR cash assistance has reached more than 65,000 people from more than 12,400 families in 2013.

"UNHCR has established vulnerability criteria and carefully screens internally displaced persons to ensure they qualify for the cash aid programme," UNHCR Representative Tarik Kurdi said from Damascus. "Many of the displaced persons we are assisting are persons with disabilities or serious medical conditions."

UNHCR's 33 truck shipment of relief items leaving Dubai starting on Thursday is part of the UN refugee agency's efforts to help prepare many of Syria's more than 4.25 million internally displaced persons for the upcoming winter. Overall, relief agencies estimate that there are more than 6.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance within Syria.

UNHCR also oversees aid to more than 1.9 million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries, including more than 684,000 in Lebanon, 516,000 in Jordan, some 434,000 in Turkey, 154,000 in Iraq and 107,000 in Egypt.

UNHCR's regional programmes to help Syrian refugees and vulnerable persons caught inside the war-torn country is so far only 38 percent funded.

Dubai's International Humanitarian City, an initiative of the government of Dubai and Her Royal Highness Princess Haya, is the UN refugee agency's main global hub for aid items with stocks of blankets, tents, kitchen sets and other items for more than 350,000 people.

For media inquiries:

  • Dubai, UAE: Mohammed Abu Asaker: mob. +971-50-621-3552
  • Amman, Jordan: Peter Kessler: mob. +962-79-631-7901
  • Damascus, Syria: Imane Sednaoui: mob. +963-932-518-030
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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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