Thousands flee fighting in Syria to neighbouring Lebanon

Briefing Notes, 19 November 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 19 November 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In Syria, an estimated 6,000 people have fled their homes in Qarah, making their way over the border into eastern Lebanon. Humanitarian partners have been on the ground in Lebanon since last Friday working with the Ministry of Social Affairs and local authorities to cope with this influx.

The spark for the displacement is the reported escalation in violence in Qarah and surrounding villages. Refugees have told us that they spent days living in underground shelters before deciding to flee. A family of ten told us they had crammed into a single car on Saturday evening to flee as the situation had become "unbearable".

Most of the newly arrived refugees are now in Arsal, in north-east Lebanon. Arsal, which lies not far from the border area, is home to a population of some 60,000 people, including already prior to the latest influx 20,000 registered refugees.

Some 100 families transited through Arsal to nearby villages including Jdeide, Fakeha and Al-Ain, while local authorities told us that approximately 300 families returned to Yabrud in Syria on Sunday.

UNHCR and its partners have contingency plans in place for these sudden movements and indeed for larger numbers should more cross. There are concerns that on-going violence in the vicinity of Qarah and central Qalamoun towns could force more to flee Syria into the already stretched east-Bekaa area.

Over 1,000 of the newly arrived Syrian families in Arsal have registered with the local municipality in the past three days and been provided with emergency assistance. This work is still on-going. The assistance includes food parcels, blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets and hygiene kits.

Sheltering the large numbers of new arrivals remains a challenge. Newly arrived refugees have been directed to four temporary collective shelters in public halls and mosques. Up to 80 families have found shelter in informal settlements while others have set up makeshift dwellings in unfinished buildings or are staying with local families. None of these provide a long term option.

UNHCR with its partners is ready to provide further shelter options if the government approves land for use. In the meantime all is being done to ensure that the temporary locations are protected against the elements and provide some warmth to the refugees.

Access to clean water and sanitation is a concern. Partners are providing latrines and water tanks to alleviate this situation and have deployed mobile medical units which are providing immediate health services. The Ministry of Public Health and partners have provided vaccinations and Vitamin A supplements. Pregnant women and war-wounded refugees are also receiving immediate assistance.

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