Syr­ian refugee in­flux out­paces aid in Le­banon

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY KAY­LYN HLAVATY

BEIRUT | Le­banon has more refugees in need of hu­man­i­tar­ian aid than in­ter­na­tional agencies can ac­com­mo­date, and the sit­u­a­tion wors­ens daily as Syr­i­ans en­ter the coun­try to es­cape civil war.

Refugees ac­count for one-third of Le­banon’s 4.43 mil­lion people, strain­ing the fi­nances and re­sources of the host coun­try and aid agencies such as the World Food Pro­gram and the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees.

“The lat­est num­bers are that 70 per­cent of refugees in Le­banon are very vul­ner­a­ble, which leaves 30 per­cent not re­ceiv­ing aid,” said Dana Sleiman, UNHCR spokes­woman in Le­banon. “For as­sis­tance, I am only talk­ing about food, hy­giene and baby kits.”

More than 2.5 mil­lion Syr­i­ans have fled to neigh­bor­ing coun­tries such as Le­banon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq since the start of the pop­u­lar up­ris­ing against Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad in March 2011, ac­cord­ing to the UNHCR. About half of those refugees are chil­dren.

“These host coun­tries are al­ready deeply stressed and poor, and now they have to carry the bur­den of an in­creased pop­u­la­tion,” said Yezid Sayigh, a se­nior as­so­ciate at the Carnegie Mid­dle East Cen­ter whose work fo­cuses on the Syr­ian cri­sis. “They can barely pro­vide for their own cit­i­zens, so add a pop­u­la­tion in­crease and it cre­ates one big prob­lem here.”

Car­ry­ing their few pos­ses­sions in their hands and on their backs, fam­i­lies of refugees hud­dle in tents, aban­doned build­ings and other empty spa­ces, and set up liv­ing quar­ters in places that of­ten lack run­ning wa­ter, elec­tric­ity and other ba­sic ser­vices. The cloth and ny­lon dwellings cre­ate cities of thou­sands that stretch for miles across the sandy, rock-strewn desert.

Con­cerns about san­i­ta­tion, med­i­cal care and ed­u­ca­tion run sec­ond in ur­gency to those about food, wa­ter and shel­ter.

Over the past three years of the Syr­ian civil war, the an­nual UNHCR budget has in­creased from $13.5 mil­lion to $362 mil­lion to help meet the grow­ing need. Still, those funds will not reach ev­ery refugee.

The World Food Pro­gram and UNHCR in July con­ducted a vul­ner­a­bil­ity as­sess­ment to de­ter­mine who would re­ceive aid, Ms. Sleiman said. Those who are most vul­ner­a­ble and have the great­est need re­ceive the most as­sis­tance.

“We want to help ev­ery­one, but there are many fac­tors in­volved such as the amount of aid we re­ceived for a given year. This causes us to make painful de­ci­sions very of­ten,” she said.

In­ter­na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion ef­forts some­times leave refugees with­out food. In Le­banon and Jordan, the World Food Pro­gram has started a re­plac­ing paper vouch­ers with plas­tic pay­ment cards. Each mem­ber of a fam­ily who is not ex­cluded from the pro­gram re­ceives a $30 monthly al­lowance on a card to buy goods at par­tic­i­pat­ing stores.

Of the World Food Pro­gram’s 1 mil­lion reg­is­tered refugees, 700,000 are re­ceiv­ing aid — and 300,000 are not.

“We ex­cluded those who have po­ten­tial to earn money or have an­other source of in­come,” said Laure Chadraoui, com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer of the World Food Pro­gram. “We tar­get those who are vul­ner­a­ble such as chil­dren, women and the el­derly.”

Ms. Sleiman said those who are de­nied aid can ap­peal. The UNHCR has vis­ited 30,000 fam­i­lies in Le­banon, and 23 per­cent were given aid.

Wissam, 26, re­cently ar­rived from Aleppo with his 15-year-old wife and their in­fant son. He re­ceives $60 monthly on a food aid card for his wife and child. The World Food Pro­gram has ex­cluded him from the dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem be­cause he has the abil­ity to sus­tain him­self and find work.

Though he said he un­der­stands why he is ex­cluded, Wissam ques­tions the sys­tem.

“I can un­der­stand, but at the same time it isn’t easy,” he said. “I hear in the news that the U.N. is get­ting a lot of fund­ing, so I don’t know where this money is go­ing.”

Even when aid is avail­able, ac­cess to the people who need it can be blocked. Ms. Chadraoui said the World Food Pro­gram can help only 4 mil­lion of the 9 mil­lion dis­placed people in­side Syria.

“Se­cu­rity has al­ways been an is­sue since in­ter­na­tional agencies don’t go there for se­cu­rity rea­sons. The Syr­ian army con­stantly shells the area, and the refugees are left with­out any pro­tec­tion,” said Carol Malouf, founder of Le­banese for Syr­i­ans, an aid group that op­er­ates mainly on the Le­banese-Syr­ian bor­der. “We op­er­ate two camps and sup­port a lo­cal clinic in Ar­sal. Fund­ing is a chal­lenge, as num­bers of refugees have dou­bled since the [As­sad] regime launched the Qalam­oun of­fen­sive [in Novem­ber].”

In Jordan, Syr­i­ans have be­come the coun­try’s largest refugee pop­u­la­tion, with more than 1.2 mil­lion reg­is­tered. Many re­side in the Zaatari and Azraq camps.

Raghad Tayyan, a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Jordan and a vol­un­teer at Syria Bright Fu­ture, works in the camps to help those who may have been over­looked by other or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“A lot of refugees are not be­ing as­sisted. It’s re­ally hard for people to find an or­ga­ni­za­tion that would re­ally help them,” Mr. Tayyan said. “Many or­ga­ni­za­tions only get the names of refugees and prom­ise them that they would have help, but they never do, which leaves the refugees de­pressed be­cause they’re be­ing fooled.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

For Syr­ian refugees in Le­banon, the ur­gent need for food, wa­ter and shel­ter takes pri­or­ity over con­cerns about san­i­ta­tion, med­i­cal care and ed­u­ca­tion.

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