UN airlifts humanitarian aid to Northeast Syria as displaced families face harsh winter

Press Releases, 15 December 2013

QAMISHLY, Syria The UN World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), and UNICEF have started airlifting urgently needed humanitarian aid from Erbil, Iraq, to Qamishly in northeast Syria as displaced families start to face one of the harshest winters ever as winter storm "Alexa" dumped large amounts of snow and brought cold temperatures to the region.

The first WFP-chartered flight landed today in Qamishly airport from Erbil with almost 40 metric tons of food including wheat flour, pasta, oil, sugar, salt, rice, canned beans and bulgur wheat. Over the next few days, WFP plans to use 11 more airlifts to move enough food to feed over 30,000 people for one month.

People across the Middle East have come face-to-face with the ferocity of winter earlier than expected as the storm front named "Alexa" by meteorologists halted relief convoys and closed Qamishly airport for several days, delaying the UN's aid flights.

Road access into northeastern Syria's Al Hassakeh Governorate remains perilous for aid agencies and no significant deliveries of relief items have reached the region overland since May, making alternative routes into the region necessary.

Two planes are contracted to do 23 rotations over the next 10 days between the two countries. It is the first humanitarian airlift of supplies from Iraq into Syria since the crisis in Syria erupted in March 2011.

The UN refugee agency plans to send some 300 metric tons of urgently needed relief items to Qamishly on 12 flights from its regional stockpile in Erbil using a chartered Iluyshin IL-76. UNHCR's aid is intended to help some 60,000 displaced people and includes 50,000 blankets, 10,000 kitchen sets, 10,000 plastic sheets, 10,000 jerry cans, 30,000 sleeping mats and 10,000 hygiene kits among other supplies.

UNICEF is sending a plane-load of health kits, water and sanitation supplies to the displaced in northeast Syria.

The supplies are desperately needed in hard-to-reach areas where some 188,000 displaced people live under extremely difficult conditions in one of Syria's coldest regions.

"Our food assistance is reaching displaced families in 13 Governorates in Syria except for Al Hassakeh which we have not been able to reach consistently for over five months now due to insecurity on the roads," said Matthew Hollingworth, WFP's Country Director in Syria. "We cannot leave these victims of war hungry in one of the harshest winter months of the year in Syria."

UNHCR teams based in Al Hassakeh and Qamishly will help distribute the organization's aid.

"The number of particularly vulnerable people in Al Hassakeh Governorate is estimated at 50,000 to 60,000 but we are still doing assessments," said Amin Awad, UNHCR's Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "Hassakeh has been out of reach for a long time but this massive airlift will ensure that many thousands of needy Syrians receive the winter aid they require."

Both the Syrian and Iraqi governments authorized the passage of humanitarian supplies between the two countries.

"We have been particularly worried about the situation of children and families in the northern parts of Syria because of the insecurity and limited access," said Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. "These airlifts will help ensure they have access to safe water and health care through the tough winter months ahead."

About WFP

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Last year, WFP reached more than 97 million people in 80 countries with food assistance.

Follow us on Twitter @wfp_media

About UNICEF

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for the children of Syria: www.childrenofsyria.info

About UNHCR

UNHCR is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. In more than six decades, the agency has helped tens of millions of people restart their lives. Today, a staff of some 7,685 people in more than 125 countries continues to protect and assist some 43 million persons.

Follow UNHCR on Twitter at @Refugees

For more information please contact:

  • Abeer Etefa, WFP/Damascus: mobile: +201066634352, abeer.etefa@wfp.org
  • Simon Ingram, UNICEF MENA/Amman: +962 79 590 4740, singram@unicef.org
  • Peter Kessler, UNHCR/Amman: mobile: +962 79 631 7901, Kessler@unhcr.org
  • Dan McNorton UNHCR/Geneva: mobile: + 41 79 217 3011, mcnorton@unhcr.org
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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.

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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.

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