UNHCR gears up for operation in Middle East around Lebanon crisis
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.