UN refugee chief pledges support for people of Beirut on visit to city
UNHCR is working to help those affected by the 4 August explosion, including local Lebanese and refugees, Grandi says after meeting families impacted by blast.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi (right) visits the home of Syrian refugee Makhoul Al Hamad in the aftermath of the Beirut Port explosion. © UNHCR/Sam Tarling
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is working to assist those affected by the blast that tore through Lebanon’s capital Beirut earlier this month, including Lebanese, refugees and other victims of the disaster, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said during a visit to the city.
The explosion on 4 August claimed more than 180 lives, left over 6,500 people with injuries and caused widespread damage to around 200,000 households. The destruction came on top of a financial crisis that had already crippled the country’s economy, and which was further exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
“We as humanitarian organizations and the whole aid community must stand alongside the people of Beirut in their hour of need,” Grandi said during his first field mission since the start of the COVID-19 crisis. “I have pledged UNHCR’s full support to those whose lives were upended in the explosion, whether Lebanese, refugees or migrants.”
“The scenes were horrific.”
Grandi walked along ruined streets close to the epicenter of the blast and saw the terrible damage done to whole neighbourhoods, before meeting with Lebanese and Syrian refugee families whose lives have been affected. Included in the death toll so far are 14 confirmed refugee victims, with a further 61 still unaccounted for.
Among those Grandi met was Makhoul Al-Hamad, a refugee from Manbij in northern Syria, whose six-year-old daughter Sama lost the sight in her left eye in the blast.
“This was the most terrifying thing, seeing her bleeding from her eye,” Makhoul said. “The scenes were horrific. All the hospitals were damaged, the doctors that helped us needed treatment themselves.
Sama wore a large white patch over her left eye and showed signs of the lingering trauma of that day, visibly jumping at the sudden sound of a drill being used by their neighbours to fix a door.
“Sama is my soul, life, hope and future,” Makhoul added. “I couldn’t stand the thought of losing her.”
“It was shocking to see first-hand the scale of the destruction, but it is the human cost of this disaster that is truly heartbreaking,” Grandi said. “The families I met today have suffered terrible physical and psychological injuries, but despite everything they remain determined to rebuild their homes and their lives.”
As part of its emergency response to meet the vast needs of people affected by the blast, UNHCR is mobilizing US$35 million to assist the most vulnerable households in the capital. This package includes US$32.6 million in support for 100,000 people whose homes were heavily damaged in the explosion, and a further US$2.44 million on protection services such as trauma counselling and legal aid.
“Beirut and its people will bear the scars of this tragedy for years to come,” Grandi said. “Now is the time to offer them the support they need to try to heal. Our teams are working on the ground, helping those worst-affected to repair their homes and recover from the trauma.”