BEIRUT/TRIPOLI: The U.N. High Commission for Refugees is working with the Social Affairs Ministry to assist Syrian refugees in Lebanon, as Syria's crackdown on protesters in towns near the Lebanese border intensifies.
“The United Nations, particularly the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, is working closely with the ministry and with the Higher Relief Committee to see that the needs of the displaced population can be met,” U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams said following a meeting Friday with Social Affairs Minister Salim Sayegh.
A large influx of Syrian refugees have crossed into the northern town of Wadi Khaled throughout April, following a security crackdown by Syrian authorities on the Syrian town of Tall Kalakh, 45 kilometers east of Homs. Syria has seen large-scale protests demanding reforms and an end to the Baath party rule in the tightly controlled Arab state.
An intensified Syrian security presence over the past week along the Arida border crossing and Nahr al-Kabir, the waterway that separates the countries, has led to a steady decrease in the number of refugees since its peak last Saturday.
Wadi Khaled residents told The Daily Star Friday that the situation on the border was normal, with fewer refugees crossing into the town than the previous week. However, residents also reported hearing gunshots throughout the day coming from Tall Kalakh.
Eyewitnesses say Syrian security forces started shooting into the air Friday to disperse thousands of protesters calling for regime change in Banias, a flashpoint coastal town, the Associated Press reported.
Residents and activists say the shooting happened after Friday prayers in the Mediterranean port. They say that protests against President Bashar Assad are also under way in the central cities of Homs and Hama, and in Damascus’ outskirts.
Over 5,000 refugees have reportedly fled into Lebanon with many Wadi Khaled residents welcoming them into their homes.
Williams praised the Lebanese people and particularly those in the Akkar region for showing great humanity and kindness to those in need.
“This is a very moving and welcome development,” Williams said.