UN refugee head meets Homs' displaced on Syria visit

Filippo Grandi witnesses 'immense' scale of urgent humanitarian and reconstruction needs.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi listens to a brief about UNHCR shelter rehabilitation assistance from a UNHCR shelter officer in Al-Hamedia neighborhood of Old City district of Homs, Syria.  © UNHCR/Bassam Diab

HOMS, Syria – UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi today witnessed at first-hand what he termed the immense scale of urgent humanitarian needs in Homs, Syria, while meeting displaced persons in the city, on the second-day of a landmark visit to the country.

“It is urgent that peace comes so that reconstruction can start,” said Grandi on arrival in Homs. “People are cold, jobless, homeless. The needs are immense," he added.

Fighting in Homs took a heavy toll, leaving the Old City in ruins, before ending in April 2014. Residents have since been returning to begin to rebuild their lives.

Syria: UN High Commissioner for Refugees visits destroyed Homs

The High Commissioner visited two UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR-funded and supported projects for returnees in the city’s El-Hamedia district.

"I lost everything. I can't afford to buy or rent."

The first, El-Birr Social Welfare Centre, offers internally displaced people and their families vocational training, educational courses, child care and psychosomatic guidance. The second was a shelter for returnees whose homes were destroyed.

At the shelter – implemented by Child Care Society and one of three operating in Homs – 34 families live in a residential building. Residents say conditions here are better than in schools where they were first forced to seek temporary shelter.

"I lost everything, I can't afford to buy or rent, I'm alright here for now,” was how Rabii, an elderly gentlemen described his situation to Grandi.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi pictured with displaced children in one of UNHCR Community Centers in Al-Midan neighborhood, Homs, Syria.  © UNHCR/Bassam Diab

Both he and 28-year-old Bara’a described how they were displaced from the old city of Homs early in the crisis and had to move on several times, before finally coming to the shelter.

The visit comes amid growing discussion over establishing ‘safe zones’ in Syria.

"Rather than planning so called safe zones in Syria, governments must focus on viable peace and then reconstruction,” emphasized Grandi. “Then refugees will return."