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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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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