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Merkel praises Sleiman as refugees numbers increase

President Michel Sleiman attends a Cabinet session at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced her support for President Michel Sleiman’s call for an international conference on Syrian refugees, as the UNHCR’s official figures indicate that at least 428,000 needy Syrians are in Lebanon.

During a telephone conversation Friday, Merkel backed the idea of holding a United Nations-sponsored conference to discuss the Syrian refugee issue, a statement from Baabda Palace said.

Lebanon’s ambassador to the U.N., Nawaf Salam, told Security Council members Thursday that Lebanon expected a total of 1.2 million Syrian refugees by the end of the year, and proposed U.N.-sponsored camps inside Syria’s borders.

He also relayed President Michel Sleiman’s call for the international community to help the country by fulfilling its pledge to assist host countries financially and to study the methods of dividing the “burden and numbers stemming from the principle of shared responsibility to prevent negative repercussions to civil and regional peace.”

“Sleiman also called for the establishment of camps inside Syria, but away from conflict zones and near neighboring countries, under the protection of the U.N.,” Salam said.

Friday’s UNHCR report said 18,000 people registered with the agency over the past week, with the total number of registered refugees rising to 428,000 – 302,000 refugees have already registered while 125,000 still awaiting registration.

Activists, aid workers and some government officials believe that actual figure could be higher by several hundred thousand people, however.

The report noted that cases of forced marriages, prostitution and human trafficking in Marjayoun and Sidon were reported. The UNHCR and partner organizations are following up on the incidents with local authorities, to provide assistance to those affected and intensify efforts to prevent similar incidents.

With rising living costs and more refugees arriving, some are searching for shelter in abandoned public buildings, according to the report.

Also, the Norwegian Refugee Council provided financial assistance to 82 Lebanese families that are hosting 110 refugee families, so that needed renovations can be carried out.

In Zghorta, Lebanon’s Health Ministry was informed of a scabies outbreak among the Syrian refugees in a residential area in the village of Ardeh.

The ministry-affiliated health center in Zghorta received a report that 15 cases of scabies affected several families residing in the complex, and officials provided them with medication and explained measures to prevent transmission of the disease to others. It came one day after the Social Affairs Ministry distributed medicine to treat the same disease in the nearby region of Dinnieh.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 20, 2013, on page 2.

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