Lebanon News

Number of Syrian refugees aided by U.N. exceeds 265,000

Refugees waits outside of the offices of the UNHCR in Beirut, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon receiving aid from the United Nations has now exceeded 265,000, as the body struggles to provide long-term assistance to a population dispersed across the country.

A report from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees issued Friday said that the aid body was registering around 14,000 new refugees every week but still could not keep up with the demand for its services.

Waiting times at many registration points are lengthy. There are currently 90,000 Syrians waiting to be officially certified as registered refugees, up from the figure of 77,236 people last week.

“UNHCR is expanding its partnerships with municipalities and local charities to extend assistance to those who have not yet had a chance to register. Most often, these refugees arrive in Lebanon with very few belongings and are in pressing need of guidance and immediate support,” the agency’s report says.

Logistical problems have previously stymied efforts to increase registration points for refugees, but the report says that new centers are expected to open in the Bekaa Valley, Tyre and possibly Beirut this month. In addition, registration hours will be extended in Beirut, where waiting times are the longest.

The UNHCR’s operations have spread throughout the country as refugees fleeing the violence in Syria have poured into Lebanon.

The organization and its partners now have operations that run from the south of the country to the north, administering food aid, health care, education services and shelter assistance. Their aid operations do not cover a large chunk of the total displaced Syrian population in Lebanon, as government sources estimate that there are at least 100,000 more Syrian refugees who are unregistered.

UNHCR’s aid efforts continue to focus on basic staples such as shelter, which is increasingly hard to come by. Rents have skyrocketed in the north and east of the country as refugees have saturated the low-income housing market.

Rents have also started to spike in the south of the country as more refugees try and seek out housing and job opportunities, the report says.

Cash-based aid for housing was offered this week as aid organizations increasingly move to the low cost, but controversial aid system that they hope will put money back in the local economy, but which critics say could feed political patronage systems.

Over 2,000 Syrians were given access to health care services this week, an outbreak of Hepatitis A is being contained, and women are receiving gender-based violence aid, the report says.

The organization also continues to struggle with many of the consequences of a refugee population living in a foreign country for an extended period of time.

UNHCR officials say that they are concerned about the increase of stateless people in Lebanon. Refugee childbirths have increased the problem of statelessness as both the refugees and aid organizations struggle with how to properly register children as Syrian citizens.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 09, 2013, on page 3.




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