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Lebanon News

2,200 refugees arrive in Lebanon after Yarmouk violence

Syrian refugees receive humanitarian aid at a humanitarian distribution center in Bar Elias village in the Bekaa valley, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Around 2,200 refugees have arrived in Lebanon from Syria in recent days, the country’s General Security said Tuesday, adding that the vast majority were Palestinian.

“About 1,200 refugees arrived over the weekend and on Monday 1,400 came through the Masnaa border crossing [east Lebanon]. About 400 hundred returned which brings the total to 2,200 in the last three days,” a source at the General Security told The Daily Star.

The source added that eight out of 10 of the refugees were Palestinian.

Large numbers of Palestinians have sought shelter in Lebanon after recent clashes between pro-Assad elements and Syrian rebels in Damascus’ Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp.

Rebel and activist sources told The Daily Star Monday that rebels had taken full control of the Yarmouk area of southern Damascus, where most the country’s Palestinian refugee population reside.

Abu Ayman, a senior official in the pro-regime Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, told The Daily Star that the Palestinians do not want to be a part in the fighting between rebels and the regime forces.

“Palestinians are a paying the price of something they don’t have anything to do with,” said Abu Ayman.

The official said the Palestinians coming to Lebanon were facing hard conditions with “almost zero resources or shelters for them.”

“They are sleeping in the streets,” he said, complaining that the help the refugees were getting from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) was insufficient.

“They give them mattresses to sleep on ... They are not getting any clothes for them and the situation is getting really bad,” said Abu Ayman.

The official added that the Palestinians would stage protests outside the UNRWA offices to urge more assistance for the newcomers.

A statement by UNRWA said that more than 150,000 Palestinian refugees in the Yarmouk camp suffered the repercussions of the clashes between regime forces and rebels.

The UNRWA statement said it has sheltered over 2,600 refugees in schools and building operated by the U.N. agency inside Damascus.

It said it was working in coordination with partner associations to secure the needs of these refugees.

The U.N. also expressed gratitude to Lebanon’s government for allowing refugees into the country and said the displaced should be provided safety and protection during their stay in Lebanon.

Khaldoun al-Sharif, the head of the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee, told The Daily Star the committee was trying to assist refugees obtain official papers for their stay in Lebanon to ensure their safety in the country.

“We are working on [official] papers for their stay in Lebanon for them to be [in Lebanon] on a legitimate basis and held them avoid being subjected to any form of bullying or trouble,” said Sharif.

As for the humanitarian assistance and aid they are receiving, Sharif admitted the UNRWA aid was not enough for the new refugees.

However, he said that the organization was also suffering from the lack of funds.

“It is a vicious circle ... refugees come in, UNRWA asks for resources, and the financial aid is unavailable yet,” said Sharif.

Social Affairs Minister Wael Abu Faour told The Daily Star Tuesday that he expected the number of Palestinians fleeing the violence in Syria to Lebanon to increase until the fall of President Bashar Assad.

“The number is expanding and I expect it to grow even more until the Assad regime is brought down,” he said.

According to the minister, a plan recently endorsed by the Cabinet to organize the presence of refugees in Lebanon allocated an amount of money to the Palestinians coming from Syria.

He also said that the UNRWA was expected to provide assistance to the Palestinians coming from Syria.

“UNRWA should shoulder responsibility in helping Palestinians coming from Syria, but obviously it will need to finalize some official procedures as well,” he said.

The plan, yet to be financed, received the approval of donor countries in an expanded meeting chaired by Prime Minister Najib Mikati Monday at the Grand Serail.

However, Abu Faour complained that the process of receiving the promised aid was slow.

“We obviously set a plan but we are waiting for the money,” said Abu Faour.

The plan, launched on Dec. 3 by the Lebanese Cabinet, was developed to provide for 130,000 Syrian refugees. However, the total of those registered or waiting to register has already reached nearly 158,000, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees registers around 1,500 new refugees a day.

According to Abu Faour, Lebanon can provide shelter for the refugees but the problem remains in the lack of resources.

He urged that the needs of the refugees be met as soon as possible.

“Lebanon cannot turn down refugees seeking shelter in the country. The Cabinet can handle their presence in the country but we need resources,” he said.

Meanwhile, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt urged the Cabinet in remarks published Tuesday to double efforts in helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Jumblatt, who spoke to As-Safir newspaper, said talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris Monday addressed the need for competent international agencies to cooperate with Lebanon and help it fulfill its task with regard to refugee aid.

The PSP leader said the large number of Syrian and Palestinian refugees entering Lebanon from Syria was becoming a burden on the state and urged the government to exert more efforts to address what he described as a “humanitarian crisis.”

Jumblatt also said that Fabius expressed his country's support for Lebanon and to the Lebanese state's decision to disassociate itself from the ongoing turmoil in Syria.

The PSP leader warned that all Lebanese need to avoid allowing the Syrian crisis spilling over into the country.

Jumblatt headed Monday from Germany to France to hold talks with Fabius and other senior French officials.

 

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