UNHCR stocks new office in south Syria with aid for thousands

News Stories, 19 June 2014

© UNHCR/B.Diab
A UNHCR container truck heads for Sweida with aid to be distributed to needy Syrians displaced within the south of their country.

DAMASCUS, Syria, June 19 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has opened a field office and warehouse in the southern Syrian city of Sweida and stocked it with aid items for onward delivery to thousands of internally displaced civilians.

A UNHCR convoy on Wednesday crossed the border from Jordan and made its way to nearby Sweida with 25,000 blankets, 10,000 sleeping mats, 2,500 kitchen sets, 2,000 plastic sheets and 5,000 jerry cans from warehouses in Amman. The aid will be distributed to the neediest among an estimated 550,000 internally displaced people (IDP) living in the neighbouring governorates of Sweida and Dara'a.

The opening of the office and warehouse in Sweida on Wednesday is part of a policy aimed at expanding UNHCR's humanitarian operation to support the increasing number of IDPs there are believed to be more than 6.5 million across the country.

The Sweida office will distribute basic relief items, rehabilitate collective shelters and arrange for the provision of health, education and legal services. The office will also become a hub for coordinating the transport of aid across the Syrian-Jordanian border, particularly to Dara'a governorate and hard-to-reach areas.

Tarik Kurdi, UNHCR's representative in Syria, said UNHCR would now be able to distribute relief supplies in the southern governorates without the need to transfer them to Damascus first.

© UNHCR/Q.Al Azroni
The newly opened UNHCR office in Sweida.

He added that this would facilitate and accelerate the delivery of urgently needed relief items to the most vulnerable, "not only in areas that are easily accessible, but also in disputed and hard-to-reach areas. This will help UNHCR improve its effectiveness under the present circumstances."

Kurdi noted that other UN agencies operating in Syria would also benefit from the cross-border transport services and would be able to use the warehouse in Sweida.

Decentralization is a vital part of UNHCR's strategy to scale up its humanitarian assistance and reach in the country. With Wednesday's opening, UNHCR now has offices in Damascus, Aleppo, Al-Hassakeh, Qamishly, Homs, Tartus and Sweida.

"Field offices are extremely important as they enable more effective programming and help UNHCR and other humanitarian actors in continuing to implement flexible approaches," said Kurdi, while adding that UNHCR was committed to trying to reach all those desperately in need of humanitarian assistance across Syria.

This year so far, UNHCR has distributed aid to some 2.3 million people in 13 out of Syria's 14 governorates.

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UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

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The UN refugee agency is increasingly alarmed over the continuing violence in Iraq and distressed about the lack of an international humanitarian response to deal with the massive numbers of people being displaced. After an assessment mission in November last year, UNHCR officials warned that the agency was facing an even larger humanitarian crisis than it had prepared for in 2002-03. But UNHCR and other organisations are sorely lacking in funds to cope with the growing numbers of displaced.

In an effort to fill the massive gap in funding, UNHCR in January 2007 launched a US$60 million appeal to cover its protection and assistance programmes for Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey, as well as non Iraqi refugees and internally displaced people within strife torn Iraq.

The longer the Iraq conflict goes on, the more difficult it will become for the hundreds of thousands of displaced and the communities that are trying to help them – both inside and outside Iraq. Because the burden on host communities and governments in the region is enormous, it is essential that the international community support humanitarian efforts.

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