UNHCR teams working to fight the expansion of polio in Syria

Press Releases, 13 November 2013

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is working to help address polio vaccination needs inside Syria's hard-to-reach zones in close coordination with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent as the two relief agencies have joined with other agencies to participate in the national polio vaccination campaign that began recently following reports of several polio cases.

UNHCR and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) are working together to support the vaccination campaign in areas that are usually hard to reach in Rural Damascus, Rural Homs, Deir Ezzor and Raqqa.

Reports that thirteen children have contracted polio have been confirmed recently. Syria eradicated polio 14 years ago but vaccination efforts have suffered during the last three years of conflict.

At a public health centre in Al Hassakeh in eastern Syria, where 23 UNHCR-supported health volunteers are providing awareness sessions on issues relating to polio and other health-related issues, in one month the number of children attending the centre rose from 46 to 1,357. The UNHCR volunteers are also vaccinating children.

So far, throughout Al Hassakeh province, 87,728 children have been vaccinated including 7,676 children who were vaccinated by the UNHCR-supported volunteers. Next week UNHCR's volunteers will join mobile teams to access children in remote areas.

"It is clear whilst the work has started, much more remains to be done," said UNHCR Representative in Damascus Tarik Kurdi. "UNHCR is pleased to work closely with its health partners to ensure that vulnerable children and other persons in hard-to-reach zones in Rural Damascus, in Rural Homs, in Deir Ezzor and Raqqa get access to the vaccinations they require."

The total target group of children expected to be vaccinated throughout Al Hassakeh province is 241,203 children according to Ministry of Health statistics. The World Health Organization is planning six to eight rounds of oral polio vaccinations in Syria. UNICEF has procured 1.35 billion doses of oral polio vaccine and by the end of this year expects to have 1.7 billion doses for use in its worldwide vaccination programmes including in the Middle East region.

Preparation to reach the target population of youngsters under the age of five years-old are currently underway, including the training of volunteers, efforts to secure the cold chain and other logistical efforts. It is hoped that the polio vaccinations in Rural Damascus, Deir Ezzor and Raqqa will start in a week's time, while SARC has already started the vaccinations in Rural Homs.

Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to participate in the awareness campaign highlighting issues surrounding polio and measles. Awareness campaigns are a proven means to reaching vulnerable young Syrian children who may have missed vital vaccinations.

Special outreach programming at UNHCR's cash distribution centre in Damascus has reached some 5,000 persons in Damascus (800 displaced families). As UNHCR's monthly cash distribution commenced this week in Lattakia it is expected that more than 36,000 vulnerable persons (6,000 families) will be reached in that community with messages about the need to ensure the vaccination of children.

Thousands of displaced persons and other needy groups approach UNHCR for cash assistance each month so the distribution centres are ideal locations to inform conflict-affected persons about the UN's vaccination campaign. The UNHCR also provides core relief items like cooking supplies, tents, plastic tarpaulin, blankets and hygienic items that so far this year have reached more than 2.7 million people in all of Syria's 14 governorates.

For media inquiries:

  • Amman, Jordan: Peter Kessler: mobile +962-79-631-7901
  • Amman, Jordan: Hélène Daubelcour: mobile +962-79-889-1307
  • Damascus, Syria: Imane Sednaoui: mobile +963-932-518-030



UNHCR country pages

The Charcoal Boys: Child Labour in Lebanon

Bebnine is one of many small towns in northern Lebanon that have seen an influx of Syrian refugees in recent months. Many of the new residents are children, whose education has been disrupted. A lot of them must work to support their families instead of studying to lay the foundations for a bright future. This set of photographs by Andrew McConnell, documents one group of boys who risk their health by working for a charcoal seller in Bebnine. Aged between 11 and 15 years old, they earn the equivalent of less than 70 US cents an hour filling, weighing and carrying sacks of charcoal. It's hard work and after an average eight-hour day they are covered in charcoal dust. Throughout the region, an estimated one in ten Syrian refugee children is engaged in child labour.

The Charcoal Boys: Child Labour in Lebanon

For Starters, a Tent: A Syrian Teacher Opens a School in Jordan

In the semi-rural area of Kherbet Al-Souk, on the outskirts of Amman, Syrian refugees struggling to get their children into crowded state schools have taken matters into their own hands. They have set up a simple school in their small informal settlement of about 500 refugees. The families had lived in Za'atri or Al-Aghwar camps, but moved out to be closer to other relatives and to access basic services in the capital. But ensuring education for all refugee children in Jordan has proved difficult for the government and its partners, including UNHCR. According to the UN, more than half of all Syrian refugee children in Jordan are not in school. In Kherbet Al-Souk, the refugee-run school consists of a large tent where the students sit on the ground with their text books. All of the students take classes together with the younger children in the front. Before, they spent a lot of time playing, but they were not learning anything. One refugee, Jamal, decided to do something about it. Photographer Shawn Baldwin met Jamal and visited the school in a tent. These are some of the images he took.

For Starters, a Tent: A Syrian Teacher Opens a School in Jordan

A Face in a Million: the Struggle of Syria's Refugees in Lebanon

They are everywhere in Lebanon - 1 million Syrian refugees, in a land of 4.8 million people. There are no refugee camps in Lebanon. Instead, most rent apartments and others live in makeshift shelters and in garages, factories and prisons. Three years after the Syria crisis began, Lebanon has become the country with the highest concentration per capita of refugees in the world. It's struggling to keep pace with the influx. Rents have spiked, accommodation is scarce; food prices are rising. Meanwhile, a generation could be lost. Half of Syria's refugees are children; most don't go to school. Instead many of them work to help their families survive. Some marry early, others must beg to make a bit of money. Yet they share the same dream of getting an education.

In the northern city of Tripoli, many of the Syrians live in Al Tanak district, dubbed "Tin City." Long home to poor locals, it is now a surreal suburb - garbage piled to one side, a Ferris wheel on the other. The inhabitants share their dwellings with rats. "They're as big as cats," said one. "They're not scared of us, we're scared of them."

Award-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario visited Tin City and other areas of Lebanon with UNHCR to show the faces and suffering of Syrians to the world. Addario, in publications such as The New York Times and National Geographic, has highlighted the victims of conflict and rights abuse around the world, particularly women.

A Face in a Million: the Struggle of Syria's Refugees in Lebanon

The Fight for Survival – Syrian Women AlonePlay video

The Fight for Survival – Syrian Women Alone

Lina has not heard from her husband since he was detained in Syria two years ago. Now a refugee in Lebanon, she lives in a tented settlement with her seven children.
Syria: A Heartbreaking Human TragedyPlay video

Syria: A Heartbreaking Human Tragedy

As the conflict in Syria grinds on, UNHCR and its partners are calling on donors to dig deep to help refugees and host communities.
Jordan: Waiting for the PopePlay video

Jordan: Waiting for the Pope

Pope Francis will visit Jordan on Saturday (May 24, 2014), where he will be meeting with refugees. The Sabra family, Christian refugees from Syria, will have the chance to meet the Pope face to face.