UN refugee agency starts an airlift operation to deliver core relief items to 50,000 displaced in northeastern Syria

Press Releases, 6 February 2014

Damascus The UN refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday that it has started the 1st out of up to 13 airlifts planned to deliver winterized core relief items (CRI), medicine, and other supplies to 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northeastern Syria. The first flight took off today from Damascus heading to Qamishli with hundreds of boxes of medical supplies including medicines, vaccines provided by UNICEF, syringes, sugar and saline solution, in addition to a UNHCR armored vehicle. The second and third flight will follow tomorrow with 5000 kitchen sets, two prefabricated warehouses and winterized CRI on board.

"We have closely coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to acquire the necessary clearances. We relied on their understanding of the dire humanitarian needs and on their cooperation in the delivery of our mandate and assistance particularly with the severe weather," said UNHCR Representative Tarik Kurdi.

Cold temperatures and rainy winter weather continue to pose a serious challenge to displaced persons in Syria with many reporting rising respiratory illnesses like asthma and flu due to the cold while having to burn plastic, garbage and other waste to keep warm.

In other areas of the country, Al Tadamoun of Damascus Governorate and Ashrafyet Sehnaya, Al Kesweh and Qudsaya of Rural Damascus Governorate, UNHCR managed to deliver CRI to 38,500 IDPs within the ending week with the help of its national partners. Distribution also continued in Aleppo where more than 15,000 Iraqi refugees received UNHCR's CRI kits.

Since 1st November, when UNHCR kicked off its "winterization" programme to get extra warm items into the hands of the IDPs, more than 1.1 million persons benefited.

Yet the cold weather is not the only problem. Many roads are still inaccessible either because of insecurity or infrastructural destruction. "Sometimes we are compelled to rely on the expensive and unsustainable option of chartering planes for airlifting". During December of last year, we funded multiple airlifts to Al Hassakeh Governorate to facilitate the delivery of winterized aid and vaccines to tens of thousands of extremely vulnerable families," UNHCR Representative, Tarik Kurdi, commented.

UNHCR also relies on sea freight. Shipping containers carrying UNHCR winter supplies like fleece blankets and kitchen sets have arrived during the last week at the ports of Tartous and Lattakia. Once through customs, the relief supplies are stocked in the agency's Tartous warehouse before being transferred to needy communities throughout the country.

The Refugee Agency currently has nearly 400 staff in Syria working out of six offices in Damascus, Aleppo, Hassakeh, Qamishly, Homs, and Tartous. Persons of concern to UNHCR in Syria include 6.5 million IDPs and around 45,000 refugees.

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Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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