UNHCR airlifts winterization supplies and vaccines to north-eastern Syria

Press Releases, 2 December 2013

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has airlifted urgently needed winterization supplies for extremely vulnerable families as well as polio vaccines for more than 538,000 children from Damascus to Al Hassakeh, Syria in a series of flights over recent days.

On Saturday 30 November a UNHCR-chartered Antonov-12 aircraft transported 14.4 metric tons of aid including 2,000 thermal blankets, 1,000 sheets of plastic tarpaulin and other equipment to Al Hassakeh for onward delivery to the UN hub in Qamishly, in north-eastern Syria.

That airlift followed a flight on Thursday 28 November in which the Antonov 12 carried polio vaccines for 538,000 children from the Syrian capital Damascus to Al Hassakeh on Thursday, as a contribution to the inter-agency effort led by WHO and UNICEF to ensure the vaccination of children living in hard-to-reach areas of Syria. In addition to the polio vaccines, the UNHCR air charter of 12.5 metric tons of aid carried tens of thousands of vaccines against meningitis, tuberculosis, MMR, tetanus for 150,000 individuals.

The transportation of vaccines is a delicate matter as the cold-chain must be preserved to keep these vaccines effective. UNHCR's airlift of urgently needed relief items is particularly important as the main road from Damascus to Al Hassakeh remains perilous for aid deliveries and no significant deliveries of relief items have been able to reach the region by road since May 2013.

UNHCR's airlift also included five incubators for Qamishly hospital's neonatal unit and a ton of infusion fluid which was sent to the health department in Al Hassakeh from where it will be delivered to hospitals in Hassakeh Governorate.

"The medicines delivered to Al Hassakeh are intended to cover the gaps in Syria's northeast including in hard-to-reach areas of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Al Hassakeh governorates," said UNHCR Representative Tarik Kurdi. These vaccines against polio will be used in the second round of vaccinations, which will start on 8th December."

The UN refugee agency has maintained an office in Al Hassakeh since 2010 and expanded its presence in Qamishly in May 2013 to help address needs amongst displaced persons and refugees living in the region.

Because of its unique access into Al Hassakeh, UNHCR has been actively involved registering internally displaced persons (IDPs), and providing assistance with core relief items like shelter material, blankets, cooking sets, sleeping mats, hygienic supplies and other aid alongside cash distributions to help vulnerable families and also providing health care.

So far over 2013, UNHCR has registered 33,000 displaced families (approximately 115,000 people) in Al Hassakeh including 23,000 families who came from Deir Ezzor. UNHCR has provided its specially designed package of core relief items to 23,500 people in Al Hassakeh and 94,500 people in Deir Ezzor.

UNHCR also runs a cash assistance programme in north-eastern Syria that has assisted 57,400 vulnerable displaced individuals over 2013.

The UN refugee agency continues to run a primary health care polyclinic in Al Hassakeh which serves both refugees and vulnerable displaced Syrians. So far over 2013 this polyclinic has provided primary health care to more than 48,000 patients.

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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