UNHCR Syria assessment team finds acute humanitarian needs in Homs

Briefing Notes, 30 November 2012

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 November 2012, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Syria

A UNHCR Syria team returned to Damascus last night after a two-day assessment mission to Homs, where they reported thousands of displaced people living in unheated communal shelters. Half of the city's hospitals are not functional and there are severe shortages of basic supplies ranging from medicine to blankets, winter clothes and children's shoes.

The team, led by our representative to Syria, reported that UNHCR's partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), had so far registered 250,000 displaced people in and around the city.

During their mission, the team met SARC counterparts and briefed local officials on UNHCR's operations in the area, including the provision of non-food aid supplies. The team included UNHCR Syria's shelter coordinator to assess the feasibility to engage in shelter rehabilitation.

UNHCR, which has more than 350 staff in five locations across Syria, has been present in the city since mid-November, where it has been provided assistance through SARC since June. The team visited two communal buildings, one housing 70 families (400 individuals) and another one with over 400 families (2,300 individuals), the largest such shelter in Homs. Local solidarity networks have been formed and are providing very organized help to local residents, but the needs are acute.

Many children have not been to school for the last 18 months. Some city hospitals have been converted into communal shelters and 60 percent of Homs doctors have left, along with other medical personnel. There are serious shortages of medicine and medical equipment.

With cold weather having arrived, UNHCR plastic sheeting is being used to cover open doorways and missing windows in collective centres, as well as to partition rooms. None of the buildings were heated, and there is a shortage of blankets, winter clothes and shoes for children.

During the mission, nine UNHCR trucks carrying urgent winter assistance arrived in Homs with 6,000 quilts, 12,000 sleeping mats, 13,000 winter blankets, 1,000 mattresses and 6,000 boxes of sanitary napkins. More aid supplies are scheduled for delivery in the coming days to complete relief shipment for some 3,000 households (15,000 people). To date, we have distributed aid packages to 5,000 displaced families in Homs.

One UNHCR staff member is now deployed in Homs, and we intend to further scale up our winter response with more deliveries of heavy blankets, quilts and mattresses. We are also identifying new humanitarian partners to expand our local distribution network. In addition, agreements have been finalized with partners for the rehabilitation of some 40 communal shelters across the country.

Lebanon

In Lebanon, we are working with a recently formed inter-ministerial committee to better coordinate efforts to help Syrian refugees and affected Lebanese communities. The Government of Lebanon is working with us to resume joint registration through the Ministry of Social Affairs (MOSA). UNHCR, MOSA, the High Relief Commission and other partners are also working to improve identification procedures for refugees and to harmonize the criteria used for determining those in need of help.

Close to 7,000 refugees were registered last week with UNHCR in Beirut, North Lebanon, Bekaa and South Lebanon, bringing the total number of those receiving assistance from UNHCR and partner agencies in the country to 133,349.

Preparations for winter remain a priority, with temperatures now dropping below 10 degrees in some areas of the Bekaa and North Lebanon. So far in November, UNHCR, WFP and other partners have distributed food vouchers, blankets, mattresses, carpets, heaters, and most recently, much-needed fuel coupons to some 50,000 refugees.

Renovations on a variety of unfinished buildings and collective shelters to house refugees are also continuing, along with the provision of cash so refugees can make rental payments. Provision of mattresses, blankets and household items continues. All refugees live in Lebanon's towns and cities, not in camps.

Jordan

We receive ongoing reports from Syrian refugees arriving in Jordan who say they were targeted en route to the border. UNHCR calls on all sides to ensure that civilians have access to safe passage.

Refugees are citing generalized violence, targeted threats against individuals and their families, and a breakdown of basic services as the reasons they fled their country. Jordanian hospitals receive injured refugees on a daily basis.

This perilous journey is particularly tough for women and children, who UNHCR staff report are often visibly traumatized. Women still recovering from childbirth are making the journey. Some report that they are inducing the birth of their babies early, in advance of their flight. Last night a woman with a twelve-day-old child arrived. In the preceding days, we received several families with babies less than a month old. Many families are opting to sedate their children during the journey, they say to keep them calm and quiet.

Also in Jordan, we have seen recent media reports of underage marriages involving Syrian refugee girls. UNHCR is aware of this phenomenon and has been working with partners to increase awareness among refugee families, religious leaders and others. While we know there have been such marriages, we do not know the numbers. Jordanian law prohibits marriage for those who are 18 or younger.

An inter-agency assessment is currently being undertaken to determine the extent of the problem and identify future interventions. UNHCR is currently producing a series of service announcements which we hope will appear son on Jordanian national television covering the issue of early marriage.

Work on preparing for winter in Za'atri refugee camp north of Amman is continuing. More than 1,500 tent "porches" have been distributed to provide additional space for gas heaters and protection from the elements for those living in tents.

Statistics

Across the region, the number of Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration in the region is now more than 465,000.

The totals for the countries immediately surrounding Syria and in North Africa are: Jordan, 137,998; Lebanon, 133,349; Turkey, 123,747; Iraq, 60,307; and North Africa, 9,734.

In addition, authorities estimate there are tens of thousands more Syrians across the region who have not come forward yet to register for assistance, including up to 150,000 in Egypt; 100,000 in Jordan; 60,000 to 70,000 in Turkey and tens of thousands in Lebanon. As the conflict continues and uprooted Syrians already in neighbouring countries run out of money and resources, more people are expected to register for help.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • Ron Redmond (Regional Spokesman) on mobile +962 79 982 5867
  • Mohammed Abu Asaker (Regional Spokesman, Arabic) on mobile + 971 50 621 3552
  • Tala Kattan on mobile: +962 79 978 3186
  • Aoife McDonnell on mobile: +962 795 450 379
  • Dana Sleiman on mobile: +961 3827 323
  • Sybella Wilkes on mobile: 41 79 557 9138
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Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

For years, migrants and asylum-seekers have flocked to the northern French port of Calais in hopes of crossing the short stretch of sea to find work and a better life in England. This hope drives many to endure squalid, miserable conditions in makeshift camps, lack of food and freezing temperatures. Some stay for months waiting for an opportunity to stow away on a vehicle making the ferry crossing.

Many of the town's temporary inhabitants are fleeing persecution or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Sudan and Syria. And although these people are entitled to seek asylum in France, the country's lack of accommodation, administrative hurdles and language barrier, compel many to travel on to England where many already have family waiting.

With the arrival of winter, the crisis in Calais intensifies. To help address the problem, French authorities have opened a day centre as well as housing facilities for women and children. UNHCR is concerned with respect to the situation of male migrants who will remain without shelter solutions. Photographer Julien Pebrel recently went to Calais to document their lives in dire sites such as the Vandamme squat and next to the Tioxide factory.

Cold, Uncomfortable and Hungry in Calais

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

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