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

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

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

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