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UNHCR opens a new office in southern Syria and transfers humanitarian assistance convoys across the Jordanian border to Syria

Press Releases, 19 June 2014

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) opened on Wednesday its new field office in the southern governorate of Sweida.

UNHCR continues to expand its humanitarian operation to support the increasing number of internally displaced Syrians (IDPs). "We are committed to expanding our humanitarian response to reach all those desperately in need of humanitarian assistance across Syria. UNHCR's efforts focus on reaching out to the most vulnerable people wherever they may be in Syria" said Tarik Kurdi, UNHCR Representative in Syria.

Sweida office will cover the southern area in Syria where more than 550,000 IDPs live and will provide all the services provided by the Refugee Agency in other parts of Syria, including the distribution of basic relief items, the rehabilitation of collective shelters and the provision of health, educational and legal services. The office will also become a hub for the coordination of the transfer of humanitarian relief supplies across the Syrian-Jordanian border, particularly to Daraa governorate and surrounding areas including in hard-to-reach areas.

Today, the Refugee Agency has transported 25,000 blankets, 10,000 sleeping mats, 2,500 kitchen sets, 2,000 plastic sheets and 5,000 jerry cans through the Jordanian border. Items were delivered to UNHCR's new warehouse in Sweida for onward distribution to people in need in the governorates of Sweida and Daraa.

"In addition to facilitating the transfer of relief items across the Jordanian border, the Syrian authorities have also informed us officially today that UNHCR will now be allowed to distribute relief supplies in the southern governorates without the need to transfer them to Damascus first, which will contribute effectively to facilitating and accelerating the delivery of much-needed relief items to the most vulnerable not only in areas that are easily accessible, but also in disputed and hard-to-reach areas. This will help UNHCR improve its effectiveness under the present circumstances", Mr. Kurdi said.

Mr. Kurdi added that almost all transport services across the Jordanian border as well as UNHCR warehouses in Sweida governorate will be available for use by other UN humanitarian agencies operating in Syria.

In view of the rapidly increasing needs in Syria, decentralization is an essential component of UNHCR's strategy to scale up its humanitarian assistance and outreach in the country. UNHCR is permanently present in Damascus, Aleppo, Hassakeh, Qamishly, Homs, Tartous, and now in Sweida.

"As the humanitarian response in Syria continues to scale-up, field offices are extremely important as they enable more effective programming and help UNHCR and other humanitarian actors in continuing to implement flexible approaches," said Mr. Kurdi.

In 2014, UNHCR has so far distributed over 8 million CRIs to some 2.3 million beneficiaries in 13 out of Syria's 14 governorates.

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UNHCR country pages

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.

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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.

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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.

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