UNHCR gears up for operation in Middle East around Lebanon crisis

News Stories, 19 July 2006

© UNHCR

GENEVA, July 19 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency is gearing up for a multi-million-dollar operation in the Middle East aimed at assisting tens of thousands of people displaced by the current crisis in Lebanon.

"This will be a phased operation, starting immediately with the deployment of the emergency mobile teams, and then building up as the situation requires," said Ekber Menemencioglu, UNHCR's director for the region.

The initial stage of the operation will include border monitoring in countries surrounding Lebanon for outflows of refugees. It will also include the deployment of mobile monitoring and assistance teams in Lebanon to help the thousands of displaced people living in communal shelters in the mountains where they had fled for safety.

With stockpiles of emergency relief supplies in Jordan and Syria, UNHCR is poised to provide immediate assistance particularly shelter items such as plastic sheeting, tents and blankets.

The Lebanese government has asked the United Nations for assistance, and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Jan Egeland, requested UNHCR to help respond to the crisis.

An appeal for funding for UNHCR's operation will be made in the joint UN appeal still to be finalised. No further financial details are immediately available.

UNHCR is currently monitoring the outflow of refugees from Lebanon into neighbouring Syria and to Cyprus. "The outflow of Lebanese into Syria can be described as a 'hidden influx' with most Lebanese leaving Lebanon, finding shelter with friends and families," said Menemencioglu. "Some 640 families are living in schools helped by the Syrian Red Crescent, and we are discussing with them how we can assist."

In Cyprus, UNHCR's office reports some 200 Lebanese have arrived, but most have independent means and are in transit to third countries. The Cypriot government has suspended deportations of illegal Lebanese workers to Lebanon.

In Beirut, the plight of the 20,000 or so refugees and asylum seekers in Lebanon mainly from Iraq is of concern to UNHCR.

"There has been a demonstration outside our office in Beirut by some of these frightened people, including stranded migrant workers, asking us to put them on a boat to Cyprus to safety," said Menemencioglu. "We are helping with their immediate needs by directing and taking them to shelters, where they can get a roof over their heads and food packages."

The first members of UNHCR's initial 11-strong emergency team are scheduled to start deploying Thursday and for the next few days will fly in from around the world to Damascus, before heading to Lebanon to begin their assessment of the situation of the displaced.

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Emergency Response

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Lebanon Crisis: UNHCR Gears Up

The UN refugee agency is gearing up for a multi-million-dollar operation in the Middle East aimed at assisting tens of thousands of people displaced by the current crisis in Lebanon.

Conditions for fleeing Lebanese seeking refuge in the mountain areas north of Beirut are precarious, with relief supplies needed urgently to cope with the growing number of displaced. More than 80,0000 people have fled to the Aley valley north of Beirut. Some 38,000 of them are living in schools.

In close collaboration with local authorities, UNHCR teams have been working in the mountain regions since early last week, assessing the situation and buying supplies, particularly mattresses, to help ease the strain on those living in public buildings.

Lebanon Crisis: UNHCR Gears Up

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

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.

2008 Nansen Refugee Award

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A former nurse, Fadia found life as a refugee in Lebanon to be especially difficult without employment. She counts herself lucky to be living in a shelter paid for by aid agencies, but food and other necessities are harder to come by. Fadia's is one of 145,000 Syrian families in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq headed by women. Poverty, isolation and fear of exploitation are just some of the hardships they face.
Lebanon: Fadia's StoryPlay video

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A former nurse, Fadia found life as a refugee in Lebanon to be especially difficult without employment. She counts herself lucky to be living in a shelter paid for by aid agencies, but food and other necessities are harder to come by. Fadia's is one of 145,000 Syrian families in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq headed by women. Poverty, isolation and fear of exploitation are just some of the hardships they face.