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Official Syrian refugee figure tops 600,000
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BEIRUT: The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon topped 600,000 this week and humanitarian agencies are becoming increasingly concerned with ensuring adequate shelter for new arrivals, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in its weekly update, issued Friday. As of Thursday, the number of refugees officially identified with UNHCR stood at 604,954, with roughly 517,000 people registered, and 87,000 awaiting registration.

Municipalities and local authorities in north Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley reported 6,100 new arrivals over the past week alone, the agency said.

Government officials and refugee organizations estimate that the actual number of refugees is higher by several hundred thousand people. Some government officials have spoken of a total of 1.2 million Syrians in Lebanon, but a segment of this group are not receiving assistance, and are living on their means.

The report noted that women and children form more than 70 percent of the Syrian refugee population.

In the Bekaa Valley, the rate of arrivals represented a significant increase, with approximately 606 households displaced into the area as compared to 502 the previous week, the report added.

As the refugee population grows and rental prices increase, ensuring adequate shelter provision is becoming more complex, the UNHCR said.

As a result, informal tented settlements are continuing to increase in numbers. Such settlements are predominantly found in the Bekaa Valley, but are also scattered across Mount Lebanon, the North and the South, the report added.

“As shelter options become exhausted, agencies in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs are adamant to step up the response in order to make sure that when winter comes refugees are sheltered in a safe place,” the report states.

The report said 17 percent of the refugees, or 20,385 households (103,000 people), had received various types of shelter intervention or support.

Earlier this week, UNHCR country representative Ninette Kelley told The Daily Star that while formal camps were not a preferred option, the time has perhaps arrived for them to be “one of the shelter options available” to refugees.

Establishing formal camps requires government approval; however, although the Social Affairs Ministry has collaborated in identifying potential locations, the caretaker Cabinet remains divided on the matter.

The UNHCR weekly update also notes that in tandem with an increase in arrivals, adjustments to registration centers’ timetables to accommodate religious observances during Ramadan has meant fewer refugees are registered daily.

As a result, the average waiting period for registration increased this week from 29 to 31 days.

The security situation in North Lebanon and the Bekaa, particularly in the town of Hermel, remains “volatile” and continues to hinder humanitarian access to some locations as well as distribution activities,” the report said.

The report said that the preparations for the 2013-2014 academic year are underway, by government ministries and international relief agencies:

“Over 138,000 refugee children between the ages of 4-14 years old are expected to benefit from formal and/or informal education services.”

UNICEF and the local NGO Kafa provided information sessions on gender-based violence to more than 2,700 women and children during the past week. Refugees also benefited from psychosocial support initiatives, art therapy sessions and an assortment of recreational activities, the UNHCR said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 13, 2013, on page 3.
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