Number of refugees continues to rise
Hanne Eide Andersen (03.08.2012)
The violent clashes in some of Syria’s biggest cities are forcing yet more people to flee. Recently, 18 000 new refugees crossed into Lebanon in only two days.
As of August 2, 33,664 refugees from Syria are registered in Lebanon, according to the U.N. Agency for refugees (UNHCR). 1,700 more are waiting for registration. UNHCR now estimates that 1,5 million people are internally displaced in Syria, and that 200,000 Syrian refugees have fled into neighbouring countries Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
Fleeing the big cities
－ For a long time an average of 300 new refugees from Syria to Lebanon were registered per week, says Mads Almaas, NRC’s Country Director in Lebanon.
The week before, as fighting escalated in Damascus and Aleppo, this number rose to 800 new refugees per week.
－ That was already a sharp increase, Almaas points out. The following days the number of new arrivals continued to rise sharply. On the 18th and 19th of July, while the fighting in the big cities was even more intensified, at least 18 000 new refugees arrived in Lebanon in these two days only.
－ Most of them came from urban areas, says Mads Almaas.
The actual number of refugees may be many times higher than what until now has been registered with the UNHCR.
－ Many choose not to register because they are set to go back to Syria as soon as the fighting in the cities eases. These people have enough resources to manage without any assistance for a short period of time, the Country Director says.
Many of the newly arrived refugees are relatively well resourced. Most came travelling by car and went straight to Beirut, where they were going to stay with friends and family.
－ However, there are also many who do not have that opportunity. About 10 per cent of those who arrived on 18th and 19th of July remain in the Bekaa Valley, where there are thousands of refugees already. In this area, most of the newly arrived will be accommodated in school buildings, Mads Almaas says.
NRC is now upgrading 30 schools in the Beeka Valley which will be used as shelters in the lack of other alternatives. NRC is still the main actor in providing safe shelters in Lebanon, covering approximately 30 per cent of the total amount of shelter needed. Our main activity is to support Lebanese host families who accommodate refugees, by upgrading their houses and facilities, and now also upgrading school buildings which the state has provided after the latest increase in new arrivals.
Starting education programmes
NRC is also distributing non-food items to refugees and host families. In addition to this, we run community centers where people can get information about how to register and what kind of help the refugees can get. The two centers, which also serve as social hubs, are located in Wadi Khaled in the north and in the Bekaa Valley.
－ Soon, we will also open a center in the small town Aarsal, and this fall we will start an education programme there. It is extremely important that children and youth get an alternative to the education they are now missing out on. Many of them have been fleeing for months, and have no hope of an early return. Even though the situation in Syria may calm down, large areas remain uninhabitable for a long time because homes and infrastructure have been laid in ruins by fighting.
Respect and humility
Most of the refugees still live in poor areas of Lebanon. － The strain on these local communities has been heavy over a long period of time, and they are completely dependent on support from aid organisations in order to continue to support the incoming refugees. It is with great respect and humility we see how the Lebanese communities have opened their homes for those in need. It is very important and necessary that they get enough support, Mads Almaas says.
Traumatized by war
Previously, the majority of the refugees came from Homs, Hama and Qusair, but now an increasing number is coming from the big cities of Damaskus and Aleppo. Most of them are women and children. Some arrive by car and by bus, while others cross the border on foot. Many are traumatized from horrible experiences in war-torn Syria.
－ It is also tough mentally to live as a refugee at the mercy of other people. The unpredictable future is a strain, and many are deeply concerned about their family and friends who are left in Syria, says Almaas.
Fear of mass exodus
The need for help varies with the general background and circumstances, and not everyone is in need of aid and assistance when they arrive.
－ But after a long time as refugees, or as a direct consequence of the war in Syria, many people have been prevented from working. When they run out of savings, they as well have to rely on humanitarian aid, Mads Almaas says.
Currently, Lebanon has the sufficient capacity and resources to give the refugees the basic help they need and are entitled to, but Almaas points out that things can change overnight.
－ We are monitoring the situation closely. The worst-case scenario is a sudden mass exodus with thousands of people crossing the border in a very short time. As of today, our capacity to handle that scenario in Lebanon small, Almaas says.