BEIRUT: The U.N. and its partner organizations are bracing themselves for what could be another massive influx of refugees into the northeastern border town of Arsal, as fighting escalates in the nearby Syrian town of Yabroud, prompting hundreds of civilians to flee.
Since Feb. 10 there has been an influx of 600 Syrian refugee families, as well as unaccompanied children, to Arsal from Yabroud, said Lisa Abou Khaled, UNHCR’s information officer in the Bekaa Valley.
“However, today I heard about 100 [individuals] that arrived in the afternoon,” Abou Khaled told The Daily Star by phone. “And there are many families beyond the checkpoint who have lined up to enter.”
Abou Khaled said the number of newly arrived refugees was relatively moderate, but the agency was bracing for more as the battles in neighboring Syria intensify.
“It’s no secret that the situation seems to be deteriorating beyond the border, but we’ve always had a contingency plan in place,” she said.
To speed up the registration process, UNHCR recently implemented a barcode system, whereby the identification documents of incoming Syrians are scanned instead of manually recorded.
Finding shelter options for refugees remains the chief challenge for humanitarian organizations.
Abou Khaled said many recent arrivals were staying with families that had previously settled in Arsal, while others have found temporary options in tented settlements.
“In October we had eight informal tent settlements in Arsal, now we have more than 30,” she said. Arsal saw a major influx of refugees after the Qalamoun battles began in November, severely straining the town’s infrastructure. There are 38,000 Syrian refugees in the border town, according to UNHCR.
“We don’t have enough land in Arsal, in the area within the last Army checkpoint, to erect more tents so we have to erect these tents outside the area of the checkpoint,” Arsal’s Deputy Mayor Ahmad Fliti said. International organizations are not permitted to cross the checkpoint located a few kilometers before the Syrian frontier for security reasons.
“We have information that another 140 families are stranded between [the Syrian town of Flita] and Yabroud, on their way to Arsal.”