BEIRUT: Efforts to assist the Syrian refugee community in Wadi Khaled, north Lebanon have been hampered since late last week when a Lebanese Army checkpoint, through which the area is accessed, was closed to international non-governmental organizations.
“We can’t travel there since last Wednesday,” said a representative, who preferred not to be identified, of one aid agency active in the area.
The representative added that other international NGOs working in Wadi Khaled are also affected, and that the UNHCR had met with the Lebanese authorities to try to resolve the issue.
The United Nations High Commissionerfor Refugees verified Tuesday that there had been a “temporary interruption of access” to the Wadi Khaled area and that the U.N. agency was currently discussing the situation with military intelligence.
“We are now in discussions with military intelligence, and they have promised to resolve the issue,” UNHCR spokesperson Dana Sleiman told The Daily Star.
According to UNHCR statistics released Monday there are more than 50,000 Syrian refugees in North Lebanon. Many of these are located in the Wadi Khaled area.
“Not having access [to the area] affects these refugees mostly and their access to aid,” Sleiman said.
Although UNHCR could not confirm this, some NGO workers The Daily Star spoke to alleged that access to Wadi Khaled was only being granted to organizations that agreed to be accompanied by a member of the Lebanese security forces while in the area.
However, such accompaniment would be unacceptable to most NGOs, both local and international, the aid agency representative said, explaining that humanitarian groups operating in the area needed to be seen as neutral in order to carry out their mission.
When contacted by The Daily Star, the Lebanese Army declined to elaborate on either the terms under which access for international NGOs was restricted or on the reasons for the imposing this restriction at this time.
The Syrian refugee population in Lebanon has been growing since violence broke out in the neighboring country 19 months ago.
The latest statistics from UNHCR indicate that there are 111,982 registered Syrian refugees in the country, although the real figure is likely considerably higher.
As the refugee population has grown so too have local and international relief efforts to meet its needs. Lebanon is currently the number one host to Syrian refugees compared to 110,649 in Turkey and 61,356 in Jordan.