UNHCR to boost Syria aid supply through airlifts from Iraq

Making a Difference, 10 December 2013

© UNHCR Photo
Displaced people in Tartous, western Syria, are among the millions who have received UNHCR assistance.

GENEVA, December 10 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and its partners will start airlifting aid from Iraq to north-eastern Syria this week, a timely move that will bring much-needed relief supplies for vulnerable people in an inaccessible area as the harsh winter sets in.

Starting Thursday, up to 22 cargo flights are expected to airlift food and relief supplies such as blankets, plastic sheets and sleeping mats from Erbil in northern Iraq to Hassakeh in Syria's north-east, with the permission of both governments. The airlifts are jointly organized by UNHCR, the World Food Programme and UNICEF.

"The number of vulnerable people in Hassakeh is estimated at 50,000 to 60,000 but we are still doing assessments. Hassakeh has been out of reach for a long time," Amin Awad, Director of UNHCR's Middle East and North Africa bureau, told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.

The announcement comes as UNHCR said it has assisted more than 3 million displaced and vulnerable people in Syria so far this year. Working with selected local NGO partners and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), UNHCR has procured, stored, transported and delivered over 7.7 million separate relief items so far this year. The agency's assistance has reached all of Syria's 14 governorates. Every week, about additional 250 trucks are being dispatched with relief supplies including blankets, mattresses, sleeping mats, diapers, sanitary napkins, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, kitchen sets and hygiene kits.

"Recent deliveries have focused on helping civilian populations in Aleppo and Rural Damascus, the two governorates hosting the majority of internally displaced people," said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards at the Tuesday briefing. "Aid has also gone to Idlib, one of the most difficult areas to reach, and Hama, where security prevented UNHCR from delivering any assistance between May and the end of November."

UNHCR has participated in more than 40 inter-agency cross-line missions into conflict zones, and that over 35 per cent of the agency's assistance has been to displaced persons in hard-to-reach or "hot spot" areas.

"Despite the scale of these efforts over the past months, the needs remain immense, and insecurity routinely prevents access to many areas," said Edwards, noting that the amount of aid delivered is still "nowhere near enough".

The ongoing civil war has displaced an estimated 6.5 million people within Syria. Many more are in need of help. In addition, some 2.3 million Syrians have been forced to flee to countries in the region.

The UN refugee agency has 370 staff in Syria and is present in most governorates. Its work in Syria is not limited to providing relief supplies. The agency has been providing additional assistance including healthcare for 971,000 people, legal protection and community services for 155,000 people, shelter rehabilitation for 70 homes and financial assistance for 175,000 most vulnerable individuals. UNHCR has also supported the inter-agency effort led by WHO and UNICEF to vaccinate children against polio. Vaccines for 538,000 children were recently airlifted to Al Hassakeh and other hard-to-reach locations in north-eastern Syria.

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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

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