UNHCR to help 30,000 Syrian refugees through ATM cash programme

News Stories, 6 February 2013

© UNHCR Lebanon
ATM cash programme

TRIPOLI, Lebanon, February 6 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency plans to expand a cash assistance programme utilizing ATM cards to 30,000 Syrian refugees by March after the recent completion of a pilot programme for 200 families in northern Lebanon.

The programme is aimed at benefitting the most vulnerable refugees registered with UNHCR and the money allowance will help them pay for daily living costs, including food, rent, transport, fuel and clothing, and thus become more self-sufficient.

Under the pilot programme conducted in the last week of January, each family received a minimum of US$150 plus an additional US$25 per family member. Under the expanded programme in the northern town city of Tripoli and the neighbouring district of Akkar, families will receive an average of US$240 a month.

The monthly amount was adjusted upwards based on data gathered during the pilot exercise. Under an agreement with a local bank, the refugees can withdraw money using ATM cards.

The refugees have no obligation to repay the money, which will also help them contribute to the local economy and thus assist the host community and enable the refugees to integrate more smoothly.

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees has helped push up prices and made life harder for all. Many families arrive in Lebanon with no financial resources while other have used up their savings. And unlike Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, there are no refugee camps in Lebanon, so many Syrians in Lebanon need help.

Refugees who took part in the pilot programme have welcomed the scheme. "It's incredible to think that UNHCR is treating us in a way which gives us so much freedom and independence," said Salam, a mother of two. "Do you know what this means to someone who has lost everything?" she asked, adding: "Dignity this is what it gives us."

As part of the pilot project, refugees in need of cash aid have been identified by UNHCR and its partners field visits are a key part of the process, along with registration data, increased outreach, community mobilization and liaison with local authorities.

In one typical case, UNHCR staff found Talal living with his wife and six children in the attic of a bakery in Tripoli's Beddawi suburb. "We live here because it is free. We have no money to go anywhere else," said the Syrian as he crouched beside the only bed in a corner of the dark room. He was advised to register with UNHCR, which would make him eligible for support.

Samar, a widow and mother of three, has been living in a dilapidated house in one of Tripoli's most impoverished neighbourhoods since fleeing to Lebanon from the Syrian city of Homs in June last year. She was reluctant to leave her two young daughters at home while she looked for work, so her 12-year-old son, Ali, became the family breadwinner, earning US$20 a week as a porter.

"It broke my heart every time he left for work," recalled Samar, who was included in the pilot cash aid programme. With the monthly grant, Ali no longer has to work and can continue his education. "Ali can leave work now and focus on his school. In Syria he was the top of his class," his happy and proud mother told UNHCR.

With no end in sight to the conflict, tens of thousands of Syrians continue to flee their homes, many seeking shelter outside Lebanon. More than 720,000 Syrians are now either registered as refugees or awaiting registration in neighbouring countries, including almost 240,000 in Lebanon.

By Bathoul Ahmed in Tripoli, Lebanon

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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

As world concern grows over the plight of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians, including more than 200,000 refugees, UNHCR staff are working around the clock to provide vital assistance in neighbouring countries. At the political level, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres was due on Thursday (August 30) to address a closed UN Security Council session on Syria.

Large numbers have crossed into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria. By the end of August, more than 53,000 Syrians across Lebanon had registered or received appointments to be registered. UNHCR's operations for Syrian refugees in Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley resumed on August 28 after being briefly suspended due to insecurity.

Many of the refugees are staying with host families in some of the poorest areas of Lebanon or in public buildings, including schools. This is a concern as the school year starts soon. UNHCR is urgently looking for alternative shelter. The majority of the people looking for safety in Lebanon are from Homs, Aleppo and Daraa and more than half are aged under 18. As the conflict in Syria continues, the situation of the displaced Syrians in Lebanon remains precarious.

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

By mid-September, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees had crossed the border into Turkey. UNHCR estimates that half of them are children, and many have seen their homes destroyed in the conflict before fleeing to the border and safety.

The Turkish authorities have responded by building well-organized refugee camps along southern Turkey's border with Syria. These have assisted 120,000 refugees since the crisis conflict erupted in Syria. There are currently 12 camps hosting 90,000 refugees, while four more are under construction. The government has spent approximately US$300 million to date, and it continues to manage the camps and provide food and medical services.

The UN refugee agency has provided the Turkish government with tents, blankets and kitchen sets for distribution to the refugees. UNHCR also provides advice and guidelines, while staff from the organization monitor voluntary repatriation of refugees.

Most of the refugees crossing into Turkey come from areas of northern Syria, including the city of Aleppo. Some initially stayed in schools or other public buildings, but they have since been moved into the camps, where families live in tents or container homes and all basic services are available.

Turkish Camps Provide Shelter to 90,000 Syrian Refugees

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

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