Lebanon News

HRC warns of halt to Syrian refugee aid

A Syrian child living in Lebanon stands beside a pre-Baath flag during a protest in Beirut.

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Higher Relief Committee announced Friday it will have to stop all assistance to Syrian refugees next week unless it receives additional government funding, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported the biggest weekly increase in refugees over the last year.

The UNHCR, which works alongside the HRC to register displaced Syrians and to coordinate aid, reported an increase of 825 newly registered refugees this week.

There are now 7,913 registered refugees in the north of the country, the weekly UNHCR report added.

Elie Khoury, coordinator of international donations at the HRC, told The Daily Star Friday that the decision to halt aid was made internally, due to “financial concerns,” but was still being discussed with partners in government. The issue is pending, he said, adding that, “We are hopeful that the issue will be resolved.”

The cutoff date for the HRC is March 23, he said.

The HRC and the UNHCR work together to register Syrian refugees, coordinate aid efforts by nongovernmental organizations and to provide basic provisions such as food, blankets and hygiene kits.

The HRC is also responsible for providing emergency medical care to wounded Syrians in and around Tripoli: The weekly report from the UNHCR also states that that 40 wounded Syrians entered Lebanon this week, with one dying after arrival at hospital.

In its weekly report, the U.N. refugee body said that the HRC decision to halt funding, “is cause of considerable concern and the UNHCR has been following up with the government to see whether this can be averted.”

The head of the HRC, Ibrahim Bashir, said Wednesday that the body had begun contacting countries interested in providing aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

“Under the instructions of Prime Minister Najib Mikati ... we have started to contact the embassies of countries interested in relief work, taking into consideration the requirements of humanitarian work and its organization in a way that guarantees the rights of refugees,” Bashir said.

The UNHCR’s weekly report said that many of the new registrations were from the Tripoli area.

While these refugees are registered jointly with the U.N. agency and the Lebanese government’s Higher Relief Council, there are also thought to be around 5,000 unregistered Syrian refugees in the Bekaa and south of Beirut, the report adds, with a further 1,000 receiving assistance in other parts of Lebanon.

This puts the UNHCR total at around 14,000, however Syrian activists in Lebanon commonly report that the real figure could be as much as double that.

UNHCR and government officials say the procedure for helping refuges is working well, but UNHCR officials have also announced they are expanding their operations to try and reach a refugee population spread out across the country.

The organization’s priority is to expand operations in Tripoli, where registration numbers lag behind the refugee population, UNHCR spokeswoman Dana Sleiman said.

“We are trying to reach out to more people that we know are in Tripoli,” Sleiman said.

She said discussions are still ongoing with the Lebanese authorities if they can open a permanent office in the city or if they will add temporary registration sites instead.

The organization’s access to the city has previously been blocked by government authorities without explanation, the UNHCR has reported.

At the beginning of the month the U.N. agency opened an office in the Bekaa to try and reach and register the around 5,000 refugees estimated to be in the area.

Sleiman said housing is a main concern in the Bekaa.

“We have a sense that the local capacity is going to be saturated soon,” the UNHCR spokeswoman said.

Also Friday, protesters took part in the weekly Tripoli march in support of Syria’s uprising. Worshippers at Hamza Mosque in the neighborhood of Qibbeh marched in support of anti-regime protesters in Lebanon’s neighbor.

Another demonstration in support of Syria’s uprising took place in Tripoli, organized by the Islamist party Hizb Ut-Tahrir. Protesters marched from near the Grand Mansouri Mosque to Tal Square.

In Beirut, protesters gathered near a mosque in the neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadideh and chanted slogans in support of Syria’s uprising.

A sit-in was also held in the village of Khraibet al-Jindi in Akkar and attended by Akkar MP Mouin Merehbi.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 17, 2012, on page 1.




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