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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.

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From Paris With Love, Toys for Syrian Children

Every year, the Quai Branly Museum in Paris organizes a collection of toys from schoolchildren in Paris and, with a little help from UNHCR and other key partners, sends them to refugee children who have lost so much.

The beneficiaries this year were scores of Syrian children living in two camps in Turkey, one of the major host countries for the more than 1.4 million Syrians who have fled their country with or without their families. Most of these traumatized young people have lost their own belongings in the rubble of Syria.

Last week, staff from the museum, UNHCR and the Fédération des Associations d'Anciens du Scoutisme gathered up the toys and packed them into 60 boxes. They were then flown to Turkey by Aviation Sans Frontières (Aviation without Borders) and taken to the kindergarten and nursery schools in Nizip-1 and Nizip-2 camps near the city of Gaziantep.

A gift from more fortunate children in the French capital, the toys brought a ray of sunshine into the lives of some young Syrian refugees and reminded them that their peers in the outside world do care.

These images of the toy distribution were taken by photographer Aytac Akad and UNHCR's Selin Unal.

From Paris With Love, Toys for Syrian Children

Angelina Jolie visits Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the Middle East

In her new role as UNHCR Special Envoy, Angelina Jolie has made five trips to visit refugees so far this year. She travelled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey in September 2012 to meet some of the tens of thousands of Syrians who have fled conflict in their homeland and sought shelter in neighbouring countries. Jolie wrapped up her Middle East visit in Iraq, where she met Syrian refugees in the north as well as internally displaced Iraqis and refugee returnees to Baghdad.

The following unpublished photos were taken during her visit to the Middle East and show her meeting with Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Angelina Jolie visits Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the Middle East

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq