BEIRUT: More than 2,500 refugees have arrived through the Lebanese town of Arsal in the wake of a Syrian regime offensive on the town of Qusair, the UNHCR said Friday.
The refugee agency’s local spokesperson, Dana Sleiman, cautioned that this figure, garnered from local authorities and much lower than the number aid agencies anticipated arriving from the besieged Syrian city, was not yet comprehensive.
The United Nations refugee agency could, however, provide some details about the new arrivals. According to its weekly update, more than half of the Qusair refugees arrived with neither legal documentation nor belongings, and many reported they had had to flee to different cities inside Syria before eventually making it to Lebanon.
To this information, Sleiman added that while the families arrived in Arsal, many had since proceeded to the Wadi Khaled region of Akkar, in the north.
In its update, the UNHCR also highlighted that “more families have reportedly not yet made it to Lebanon due to high risks of traveling both out of Qusair and to other areas inside Syria.”
Also Friday, following a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr announced that his country was donating $11.5 million to aid Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Carr said Australia supports Lebanon’s disassociation policy from the Syrian crisis and his country is committed to helping Lebanon shelter refugees displaced by the fighting.
According to the latest figures, the United Nations is aiding more than 488,000 refugees in the country, but the aid organization and the Lebanese government have faced major budget shortfalls in coping with the rising numbers of Syrians who have taken refuge here.
Australia’s announcement came Friday as in Geneva the UNHCR urged Syria’s neighboring countries to keep their borders open, but also voiced concern that many of those trying to flee violence may be stuck in extremely dangerous situations on the Syrian side of those borders.
“We are ... disturbed by accounts indicating there may be restrictions imposed on those wishing to leave Syria,” the UNHCR quoted its spokesperson Melissa Fleming as telling reporters.
“It is essential that civilians fleeing violence have access to safety under all circumstances also in accordance to international law,” Fleming added.
Fleming also used her Twitter account to draw attention to the predicament of refugees fleeing Qusair.
“Refugees in Arsal, Lebanon from Qusair, #Syria tell us more families on the run, facing huge danger. Hope they arrive unharmed,” Fleming wrote.
More than 1.5 million people have fled across Syria’s borders over the past two years.