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UN refugee agency starts airlift into northeast Syria

Press Releases, 17 December 2013

QAMISHLY, Syria, December 17 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency today started an airlift of relief items from Iraq into northeast Syria's Al Hassakeh governorate to help more than 50,000 extremely vulnerable and displaced Syrians cope with the sudden arrival of winter following an agreement with both the Iraqi and Syrian authorities to open new aid routes.

UNHCR's chartered Iluyshin IL-76 cargo aircraft landed in Qamishly loaded with 7,000 thermal blankets, 1,400 plastic tarpaulins, 1,400 kitchen sets, 4,200 sleeping mats and 1,400 jerry cans. Over the next week the refugee agency plans 12 flights from Erbil, Iraq.

The aid flights are part of an inter-agency airlift involving also the UN World Food Programme and UNICEF that commenced Sunday with the arrival of a WFP aircraft carrying 40 metric tons of food. The UN's leading humanitarian agencies plan a total of 23 flights into Qamishly to reach needy families in Al Hassakeh governorate since overland deliveries of humanitarian assistance from Damascus have been perilous since May.

"These relief items will help displaced families in one of Syria's most remote regions to survive a bitter winter," said UNHCR Representative Tarik Kurdi. "Many needy families lost nearly everything when they fled the conflict, so UNHCR's core relief items are much-needed."

Some 188,000 displaced persons reside in Al Hassakeh Governorate. The items being airlifted by UNHCR will help 10,000 families to survive the winter. UNHCR plans to start distributing the relief items immediately.

Over 2013 UNHCR has delivered aid to some 3.2 million people in all of Syria's 14 governorates, distributing more than 7.7 million various relief items.

"We need to get more relief items to people across the Syria and this airlift will ensure we have urgent supplies on hand for those most in need as the winter cold sweeps across the region," UNHCR's Tarik Kurdi said.

WFP is flying enough food to feed over 30,000 people for one month while UNICEF is sending health kits, water and sanitation equipment. The joint UN airlift marks the first delivery of UN assistance from Iraq to Syria. UNHCR has operated a smaller airlift into Qamishly from the Syrian capital Damascus since July to delivery urgently needed humanitarian supplies and polio vaccines.

Every week UNHCR continues to dispatch 250 trucks throughout Syria carrying relief aid to support some 75,000 persons. The most recent deliveries were to rural Damascus and Idlib in northwestern Syria. With the start of UNHCR's flights in Qamishly, the agency's personnel will be working with local partner agencies to delivery items to needy families in hamlets around the city and near Al Hassakeh city, further south.

The UN refugee agency has maintained an office in Al Hassakeh since 2010 and expanded its presence in Qamishly in May to help address needs in the eastern region. Because of its unique access in Al Hassakeh, UNHCR has been registering displaced persons and providing assistance with core relief items like shelter material, blankets, cooking sets, sleeping mats, hygienic supplies, diapers and other aid alongside cash distributions to help vulnerable families and also providing health care.

UNHCR has some 340 personnel working throughout Syria. On Monday, UN agencies and non-governmental partners launched a joint appeal seeking $2.3 billion for relief activities inside Syria over 2014, where UNOCHA estimates that 9.3 million people are vulnerable and need aid, including 6.5 million internally displaced persons.

For further information please contact:

  • Peter Kessler on mobile: + 962 79 631 7901



A Bleak Milestone in Lebanon, Visualized

The number of refugees fleeing from Syria into neighbouring Lebanon passed the 1 million mark today, a bleak milestone exacerbated by rapidly depleting resources and a host community stretched to breaking point.

A Bleak Milestone in Lebanon, Visualized

The Most Important Thing: Syrian Refugees

What would you bring with you if you had to flee your home and escape to another country? More than 1 million Syrians have been forced to ponder this question before making the dangerous flight to neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq or other countries in the region.

This is the second part of a project by photographer Brian Sokol that asks refugees from different parts of the world, "What is the most important thing you brought from home?" The first instalment focused on refugees fleeing from Sudan to South Sudan, who openly carried pots, water containers and other objects to sustain them along the road.

By contrast, people seeking sanctuary from the conflict in Syria must typically conceal their intentions by appearing as though they are out for a family stroll or a Sunday drive as they make their way towards a border. Thus they carry little more than keys, pieces of paper, phones and bracelets - things that can be worn or concealed in pockets. Some Syrians bring a symbol of their religious faith, others clutch a reminder of home or of happier times.

The Most Important Thing: Syrian Refugees

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud

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.

Children like Mahmoud, some as young as seven, often work long hours for little pay, and in some cases in dangerous conditions. These children forfeit their future by missing out on an education and the carefree years of childhood. Many are also traumatized by what they witnessed back in Syria.

UNHCR and its partners together with local governments are providing financial assistance to help vulnerable Syrian refugee families cover expenses like rent and medical care, which means there is less need to pull children out of school and put them to work. UN agencies and their partners have also established case management and referral systems in Jordan and Lebanon to identify children at risk and refer them to the appropriate services.

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud