UNHCR and partners distribute aid to Lebanese, Syrians displaced by clashes in Bekaa Valley

Briefing Notes, 8 August 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ariane Rummery to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 8 August 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR, working with Lebanese government and other partners in the north-eastern Bekaa Valley, is distributing humanitarian supplies, including hygiene and baby kits, mattresses, blankets, bread and canned food, to Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees who have fled fighting between the military and armed groups in the town of Arsal, close to the Syrian border.

Lebanese municipal authorities estimate that over 2,000 Lebanese and Syrian people, mainly women and children, have fled Arsal since the clashes began on Saturday. They are currently sheltering in private houses, community centres and schools in Bekaa towns such as Al Marj, Bar Elias and Baalbek.

With movement into and within Arsal still curtailed by the security situation, access remains limited and reports indicate that food stocks and baby supplies are running low. Electricity remains cut off, preventing pumping of water from wells, and the water supply is precarious. However, two water trucks were able to deliver water on Wednesday to various homes and collective shelters in the town.

Reports indicate that health-care centres in Arsal are running low on medical supplies. Primary care and mobile medical unit activities have mostly been suspended, with only one primary care centre open to receive patients. Humanitarian agencies have dispatched mobile medical units to areas and towns in the Bekaa hosting those displaced from Arsal.

Those who were able to flee the town cite security concerns, including the risk of being caught in the crossfire, as the main reason for leaving their homes. Some 35,000 Lebanese civilians live in Arsal, while in the same town UNHCR has registered 42,000 Syrian refugees who fled from the conflict in neighbouring Syria, now well into its fourth year.

Lebanon currently hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country, with UNHCR having registered 1.2 million, equivalent to over 25 per cent of Lebanon's resident population. Most of these registered refugees, over 400,000, are in the Bekaa Valley.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Ariane Rummery on mobile +41 79 200 7617
  • In Lebanon, Brian Hansford on mobile +961 763 206 25
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2008 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency has named the British coordinator of a UN-run mine clearance programme in southern Lebanon and his civilian staff, including almost 1,000 Lebanese mine clearers, as the winners of the 2008 Nansen Refugee Award.

Christopher Clark, a former officer with the British armed forces, became manager of the UN Mine Action Coordination Centre-South Lebanon (UNMACC-SL) n 2003. His teams have detected and destroyed tons of unexploded ordnance (UXO) and tens of thousands of mines. This includes almost 145,000 submunitions (bomblets from cluster-bombs) found in southern Lebanon since the five-week war of mid-2006.

Their work helped enable the return home of almost 1 million Lebanese uprooted by the conflict. But there has been a cost – 13 mine clearers have been killed, while a further 38 have suffered cluster-bomb injuries since 2006. Southern Lebanon is once more thriving with life and industry, while the process of reconstruction continues apace thanks, in large part, to the work of the 2008 Nansen Award winners.

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Although 90 percent of the displaced returned within days of the August 14 ceasefire, many Lebanese have been unable to move back into their homes and have been staying with family or in shelters, while a few thousand have remained in Syria.

Since the crisis began in mid-July, UNHCR has moved 1,553 tons of supplies into Syria and Lebanon for the victims of the fighting. That has included nearly 15,000 tents, 154,510 blankets, 53,633 mattresses and 13,474 kitchen sets. The refugee agency has imported five trucks and 15 more are en route.

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