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Lebanon: thousands of displaced returning home

Briefing notes

Lebanon: thousands of displaced returning home

15 August 2006

Thousands of displaced Lebanese both within Lebanon and from Syria are streaming back to their homes since the ceasefire started on Monday. UNHCR teams monitoring the roads back from Syria and the south into the worst affected areas of Lebanon expect the huge numbers of returnees to continue in the coming days. Today, they reported that by noon over 8,000 Lebanese had returned home in addition to the estimated 10,000 who left yesterday. We have teams 24 hours a day at the four border points from Syria to assist returnees. They are distributing return packs of water, high-energy biscuits, wet towels and rehydration salts. They are also identifying vulnerable cases who require additional help. UNHCR is arranging a 10-bus convoy for 250 Lebanese from Damascus to Beirut and Sidon this afternoon to take back displaced Lebanese who need help with transport. We are assisting those who cannot afford to return home. We have also helped local authorities in the Syrian city of Homs organise an eight-bus convoy to major cities in Lebanon. Six buses carrying 240 passengers are travelling to Hermel and Baalbek, with two buses loaded with 80 passengers heading to Tripoli and Beirut. We have also organised a shuttle bus from the Yabous border near Damascus across into Lebanon to waiting taxis for those who have arrived at the border on foot. The government of Syria has asked for UNHCR assistance with the transportation, which could be needed by many of the 180,000 Lebanese who fled to Syria.

Inside Lebanon, UNHCR teams have set up at major points on the return routes and are distributing assistance such as plastic sheeting, mattresses, water and other supplies to returnees. They are also warning returnees of the dangers of unexploded ordnance. We are also trying to get more supplies of mattresses, plastic sheeting and kitchen sets to Tyre today. Once our warehouses are operating in Sidon and Tyre, distribution into the interior of the country will be carried out from there.

The full extent of the aid that will be eventually needed will not be clear until a thorough assessment is carried out in the worst affected areas. Not only is it hard to reach some villages because of the bomb damage, but there are large amounts of unexploded ordnance littering the landscape. Despite the numbers returning immediately, we expect a considerable number of displaced both in Syria and Lebanon could need continuing assistance until they are able to go home. UNHCR is prepared to assist up to 50,000 Lebanese who may delay their return from Syria.

The arrival of UNHCR assistance for displaced Lebanese is accelerating. With the establishment of the ceasefire and the reopening of routes that had been cut off, we are organising the delivery of large "Rubhall" warehouse tents that will house supplies in Tyre. One C-130 aircraft landed today in Beirut from Jordan loaded with family-sized tents, mattresses and a rub hall. Two more flights to Beirut are scheduled from Amman on Wednesday, which will complete the five UNHCR charter flights arranged with the Royal Jordanian air force during the emergency.

In addition, four flights with UNHCR supplies are landing today in Larnaca, Cyprus, with seven Rubhalls, 1,120 canvas tents from Amman and 1,200 lightweight tents from Dubai. They will be loaded aboard a ship this week that will, if possible to go directly to Tyre. If not, the ship will go to Beirut. As well, the French ship we mentioned that left Marseille last week with UNHCR supplies, including six-wheel-drive trucks that will be able to traverse even bomb-damaged roads, is expected to dock in Beirut tomorrow.