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UNHCR and partners in operation to help refugees amid winter storm

Press Releases, 11 December 2013

Across Lebanon, more than 838,000 refugees including 120,000 living in flimsy tents are suddenly facing the onslaught of cold weather, rains and snowfall at higher altitudes as a massive storm system meteorologists named "Alexa" has moved over the Middle East region, affecting Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Jordan.

With the support of the Lebanese Armed Forces, on Tuesday, UNHCR and NGO partners were able to speed up the distribution of additional emergency shelter kits including plastic sheets, timber and tools to thousands of refugees living in tents in the Bekaa, eastern Lebanon, so far the region most affected by the storm. Emergency teams continued on Wednesday despite blocked roads from the weather conditions. Alternative shelters are also being prepared for refugees whose tents may be affected by the snow, rain and flooding.

Some 125,000 refugees living in the Bekaa have already received winter kits and 55,000 more will be reached in the coming days. Humanitarian agencies working throughout Lebanon have already distributed 255,000 blankets and over 6,000 stoves in the past months. Some 45,000ATM cards with US$150 each have also been distributed to vulnerable families to buy additional stoves and fuel.

Storm Alexa struck Lebanon on Tuesday night bringing snow to higher areas and rain elsewhere, accompanied by high winds. According to forecasts, conditions are expected to remain difficult for several days, with further snow expected tonight. Reports from Syria and parts of Turkey spoke of similarly grim conditions there.

UNHCR is particularly concerned for the many refugees in Lebanon living in makeshift accommodation, as their homes are fragile and substandard. The number of refugees in Lebanon has increased five-fold over the last year.

"For the hundreds of thousands of refugees in Lebanon, as well as those in neighbouring countries and the displaced in Syria, a storm like this creates immense additional hardship and suffering," said Amin Awad, Director of UNHCR's Middle East and North Africa Bureau. "With Lebanon's help we're doing everything we can to get rapid additional help to people who most need it. This is on top of the winter preparations already done over the past months."

A host of other humanitarian agencies are working on the winter response in Lebanon, including the World Food Programme, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International Organisation for Migration, Oxfam, Medair, Save the Children, World Vision, Humedica, GVC, Mercy Corps, IOCC, PU, Caritas, Concern, Acted, Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Handicap International and UNICEF.

The UN refugee agency began distributing thermal blankets and other items beginning in November. Across the Middle East UNHCR has distributed some 70,000 plastic tarpaulins to help refugees better prepare their tents and shelters for winter while some have received electric or kerosene heaters. Other refugees are receiving cash grants to purchase heaters.

WFP and its partners are meeting the food needs of newly arrived Syrian refugees in areas affected by the storm in Lebanon with food stocks enough to feed 150,000 people. Elsewhere in the country, the UN food agency is providing food assistance to over 600,000 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR using electronic food vouchers.

Lebanon is at present the largest Syrian refugee-hosting country in the region, with 838,189 Syrians either registered as refugees or awaiting registration. Unlike other countries neighbouring Syria there are no established refugee camps. Instead people are living in the community in nearly 1,600 different areas.

Lebanon has responded generously to the influx, and earlier this week authorized the use of the Lebanese Armed Forces to help UNHCR in speeding the delivery of winter aid. As of Wednesday, efforts were focused on getting help to some of the worst affected sites in the Bekaa. In Turkey, UNHCR field teams were blocked from visiting camps around Kilis today due to snow blocking roads in that region.

With almost 2.3 million Syrian refugees around the region (a more than five-fold increase since this time in 2012) and millions more people displaced internally in Syria, winter conditions are a major worry across the humanitarian community.

Winter preparation work, involving improvements to shelters, heating, blankets and clothing, has been underway for months. The first cross-border airlift from Iraq into northeast Syria, bringing additional humanitarian winter materials to displaced populations there, is expected to launch later this week weather permitting.


UNHCR MEDIA CONTACTS:

- Roberta Russo, Beirut, Lebanon: mob. +961-71-910-320

- Dana Sleiman, Beirut, Lebanon: mob. +961-3-827-323

- Lisa Abou Khaled, Bekaa, Lebanon: mob. + 961-71-880-070

- Bathoul Ahmed, Tripoli, Lebanon: mob. +961 70 100 740

- Peter Kessler, Amman, Jordan: mob. +962 79 631 7901

- Dan McNorton, Geneva: mob. +41 79 217 3011


WFP MEDIA CONTACTS:

- Peter Smerdon, Rome Tel: +39 06 6513 2150 / Mobile: +39 342 878 4107 peter.smerdon@wfp.org

- Abeer Etefa, Cairo Tel: +20 2 2528 1730 / Mobile: +2 010 666 34352 Abeer.Etefa@wfp.org

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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.

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Ashraf was born the very day the Syria conflict began: March 15, 2011. He is the seventh child in a family from Homs. Within a week of his birth, the conflict arrived in his neighbourhood. For months his family rarely left the house. Some days there was non-stop bombing, others were eerily quiet. On the quiet days, Ashraf's mother made a run with him to the local health clinic for vaccinations and check-ups.

When Ashraf was about 18 months old, his aunt, uncle and cousin were murdered - their throats slit - as the boy slept nearby in his family's home. Terrified that they were next, Ashraf's family crammed into their car, taking a few precious belongings, and drove to the border.

They left behind their home, built by Ashraf's father and uncle. Within days the house was looted and destroyed. Photographer Andrew McConnell visited the family at their new home, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, which was also built by Ashraf's father and uncle. Located on the edge of a muddy field, it is a patchwork of plastic sheeting, canvas and scrap metal. The floor is covered with blankets and mattresses from UNHCR. They now face new challenges such as the daily battle to keep the children warm, dry and protected from rats. Ashraf still starts at sudden loud noises, but the doctor told his mother that the boy would get used to it.

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Mahmoud,15, hasn't been to school in 3 years. In his native Syria, his parents were afraid to send him because of the civil war. They ended up fleeing a year ago when, in the early morning hours, a bomb fell on a nearby house. The family, still groggy from being jolted awake, grabbed what they could and fled to Lebanon. Their home and the local school have since been destroyed.

In Lebanon, Mahmoud's father is unable to find work and now the family can barely afford rent.

A month ago, Mahmoud started working for tips cleaning fish at a small shop next to his home. He makes about $60 USD a month. With this money he helps pay rent on his family's tiny underground room, shared between his parents and eight brothers and sisters. Mahmoud is proud to help his family but with the fish shop located in the same subterranean structure as his home, he barely goes out into the sunshine.

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