MASNAA, Lebanon: A rapidly constructed reception center for Syrian refugees at Lebanon’s Masnaa border crossing has yet to become operational, the U.N. refugee body confirmed Wednesday to The Daily Star. The center, which was agreed upon and put in place late last week, stands in Lebanese territory on the Syrian side of General Security-operated arrivals point to Lebanon, according to Joelle Eid, the spokesperson for the UNHCR, and sources at the border.
Its construction was agreed last week between the U.N. refugee agency, partner organizations and the Social Affairs Ministry as the country braced for an anticipated influx of Syrian refugees following alleged chemical weapons attacks in Damascus and the subsequent threat of international military action against the Syrian regime.
Although the anticipated influx has not materialized, it remains unclear how recent events are impacting refugee arrivals.
A General Security source reported “normal” numbers arriving and departing through the Masnaa crossing. “Normal” according to the source is between 10,000 and 15,000 arrivals each day, with about half that number departing.
However, an aid distribution worker at a Qatari-funded center within meters of the crossing said numbers have been in flux.
Majdi Qanbar said that while 100-150 families registered daily for aid last week, the number dropped to 57-60 families per day after United States President Barack Obama announced that Congress would vote on taking military action on Syria. Before the chemical weapons attack 40-50 families registered at the center each day, Qanbar said.
A source who works at the Masnaa crossing told The Daily Star that the new reception center site has been laid with concrete, while two hangars with seating for up to 300 people are in place and three wooden offices have been built. The source added that a mobile medical unit, belonging to the non-governmental organization International Medical Corps, is parked near the site.
However, as of Wednesday evening, the center had not yet opened.
The Daily Star could neither see nor gain access to the center as it lies beyond the General Security departure point, out of view and accessible only to those granted prior permission to enter.
The center is intended to provide arriving refugees with information and counseling services alongside access to water, sanitation and health facilities. It will not offer short- or long-term shelter, Eid said last week.
But the border source added that no one at the crossing was sure what exact role the center would play in processing Syrians entering Lebanon, saying that decision rested largely with the Social Affairs Ministry.
Asked when the center would open, the UNHCR’s Eid said that information also lies with the ministry.
Ministry officials tasked with the Syrian refugee portfolio were Wednesday in Geneva attending a UNHCR conference with representatives of other host countries and could not be reached for comment on the matter.
At the conference, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour, alongside the foreign ministers of Iraq, Jordan and Turkey and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, appealed for greater international support for the more than 2 million refugees of the Syria conflict.
To date, appeals for aid have repeatedly fallen short of their goals.
However, some countries continue to announce donations.
Germany confirmed Wednesday in a media release that its Federal Government is donating an additional $30 million to UNHCR’s regional response to the Syrian crisis.
A portion of that funding will be spent in Lebanon.
Germany has thus far donated about $450 million to the regional crisis response. – Additional reporting by Samya Kullab