BEIRUT: January saw another large jump in the number of Syrian refugees registering with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Lebanon, bringing the in-country total to 165,000.
Another 77,263 people are scheduled to be registered, according to the UNHCR’s monthly report on the refugee crisis. Some 14,000 more Syrians registered in January than in December, according to the report.
“We simply cannot register people at this rate of arrival,” Dana Sleiman told The Daily Star. “We need to increase capacity as quickly as possible to respond to needs in a timely manner.”
Luckily for the UNHCR and its partners, including the Lebanese government, the recently concluded donor conference in Kuwait yielded $1.5 billion in pledged funds to help Syrian refugees and their host communities. While the logistics of distribution are still being worked out, according to the report, a large bulk of the money is expected to go to the Lebanese government and a $341 million “inter-agency joint plan.” Sleiman declined to elaborate on the plan, adding that the UNHCR would have more details soon.
For the time being, she said, the UNHCR is focusing its efforts on shortening the waiting period between the time Syrians make appointments, and when they are actually registered to receive services, and possibly be relocated. Some refugees have complained of waiting for months to be registered.
Another pressing concern is finding adequate shelter, especially during the harsh winter months. The government has yet to sanction refugee camps, and many Syrians find themselves in vulnerable positions, with no long-term work and continuously rising rents.
“We’re trying to assist the most vulnerable refugees first, for example by providing refugees with cash or paying directly to landlords to host refugees in vulnerable situations,” Sleiman said. “Alternative shelter solutions could be collective shelters or renovating unfinished buildings where they can be hosted.”
Collective shelters are usually abandoned schools or other large unoccupied public buildings that UNCHR refurbishes with showers, washrooms and other amenities.
Another approach is to offer to complete unfinished houses belonging to local families in exchange for them letting the refugees live there for free.
The U.N. is also working to reach out to Syrians who have not yet registered out of fear or lack of transportation.
A U.N. representative to Tripoli, Daniela Raiman, met in the northern district of Zghorta Friday with local Lebanese officials and Syrian refugees to discuss barriers to registration.
During the meeting, Raiman stressed the importance of registering to ensure the fair distribution of aid, emphasizing that any information collected would be kept confidential. Many refugees do not register out of fear their files will be handed over to the Syrian government.
For their part, Syrian representatives recognized the efforts of the local municipalities and the U.N., but complained that they have yet to receive the assistance they had been promised.