UNHCR relief items blocked in Syria, emergency team arrives in Beirut
GENEVA, July 25 (UNHCR) - UNHCR relief supplies for more than 20,000 displaced and distressed people in Lebanon were blocked in Syria on Tuesday awaiting the opening of safe passages, while the first members of the refugee agency's emergency team arrived in Beirut. In Damascus, UNHCR staff were distributing mattresses, blankets and other relief items to communal centres housing hundreds of Lebanese fleeing the conflict in their homeland.
"It is enormously frustrating to be right on the back doorstep of Lebanon and ready to move in with hundreds of tonnes of aid, but the door remains closed," refugee agency spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.
"We have hundreds of tonnes of tents, mattresses, blankets and other aid which could be delivered in a matter of hours if we only had access to the country. We are exploring every option and pressing to move these urgently needed relief items as soon as possible to where they are needed most," Pagonis added.
A convoy of trucks carrying 250 tents, 10,000 blankets and 10,000 mattresses is ready and waiting for the green light in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
In Syria, UNHCR has positioned some 20,000 mattresses, 20,000 blankets; 5,000 family tents; 5,000 bales of plastic sheeting; 10,000 jerry cans; 5,000 stoves and 5,000 cooking sets with more supplies available from its regional stockpiles. In Jordan and Syria alone the refugee agency's stockpiles contain 250,000 blankets; 50,000 mattresses; 30,000 kitchen sets; 22,000 family tents; 17,000 stoves and other relief items. Additional quantities are also available in stockpiles in Kuwait and Iraq.
While relief supplies remained blocked, four members of UNHCR's special emergency team joined a UN convoy and crossed into Lebanon from Syria on Tuesday morning. The team is being sent to reinforce staff already on the ground in Beirut. By the end of the week, 25 members of the emergency team are expected to be on the ground and will be split between Lebanon and Syria.
On Monday, the UN's humanitarian crisis coordinator, Jan Egeland, visited the Aley valley north of Beirut where UNHCR staff have been working with the Lebanese authorities to help the tens of thousands of people who have fled to the area, including 38,000 housed in schools.
In Damascus, meanwhile, UNHCR is distributing relief items - including mattresses, blankets and kitchen sets - to communal buildings housing the growing number of displaced people. This operation is likely to extend soon to displaced people in the cities of Homs, Aleppo and Tartous, north of the capital.
Along the border between Syria and Lebanon on Monday, UNHCR border monitoring teams at three crossing points said the number of arrivals had dropped to around 4,000 at each point, compared to an average 10,000 in previous days.
Many of the arrivals were from south Lebanon and there were also small groups of foreign nationals. A small group of people claiming to be recognised refugees - Sudanese and Somalis - were allowed to enter the country and were initially provided shelter and assistance by the Syrian Red Crescent. A few Lebanese are reported as having crossed over the border from Syria into Jordan.
An estimated 210,000 people have crossed four border points since the conflict started in mid-July. Of these, some 100,000 Lebanese and some third country nationals are remaining in Syria. Those living in organised shelters and with host families need support and assistance.
In Cyprus, ports and airports are being monitored by the refugee agency for arrivals of Lebanese nationals, as well as people of concern to UNHCR who might be fleeing Lebanon. From initial reports, which are not comprehensive, some 10 percent of the total arrivals on vessels are Lebanese.
UNHCR's portion of the UN Flash Appeal launched Monday for the Lebanon crisis totals $18.9 million aimed at helping 150,000 vulnerable displaced people in Lebanon and neighbouring countries for an initial period of three months.
As part of the join U.N. approach to the crisis, UNHCR will be responsible for protection activities as well as for shelter and site management.