Lebanon begins winter arrangements for Syrian refugees

Bassem Aly , Wednesday 10 Oct 2012

As winter season approaches, Lebanon starts humanitarian and financial preparations for thousands of Syrian refugees with UN support

Syrian Refugees in Lebanon
Syrian refugees are moving into Lebanon to escape the 19-month political crisis in Damascus (Photo: Reuters)

The Lebanese premier met with UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon to discuss the necessary financial and humanitarian arrangements for the growing number of Syrian refugees, Monday, as winter closes in on the tiny Arab country.

Civilians continue to pour into Lebanon to escape the violence in Syria where over 18,000 people have died since the 19-month uprising erupted against President Bashar Al-Assad.

Lebanon is honouring its humanitarian obligations, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly, told the UN News Centre after meeting the Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati in the capital Beirut.

“The coordination between the government, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations in addressing the needs of the refugees is close,” the UN Special Coordinator told reporters after the meeting.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced last week that it is rolling out a winterization plan, along with its partners in Lebanon, to provide refugees and vulnerable Lebanese with heating fuel, mattresses, blankets and clothes, as well as refurbished accommodation in preparation for the colder months.

However, the refugee agency stated that the scattered nature of the refugee population in Lebanon poses several challenges in providing assistance in remote areas.

The UN recently issued a financial appeal worth nearly $488 million to assist almost 300,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey, Plumbly pointed out. The latest UNHCR statistics estimate the growth of refugee numbers to reach 700,000.

“We have been equally clear in our support for the efforts of the President, the Prime Minister and the country’s leaders collectively to distance Lebanon from the worst effects of the crisis," he said.

Spillover Effect

Media has reported recurring outbreaks of violence along the poorly demarcated and porous frontier between the two neighbouring states.

In June, clashes broke out between Syrian troops and residents of the border town of Arsal near the Syrian-Lebanese border, after a Lebanese man was killed and two wounded at dawn. A security source told AFP that rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons were fired during such clashes.

Damascus said weapons and fighters crossed into Syria in support of rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces, while Lebanese residents accused Syrian soldiers of repeated infiltrations into Lebanon.

Two months earlier, in April, a Lebanese television cameraman was killed by gunfire from Syrian troops across the border, and shells have also landed inside Lebanon in the past.

Syria occupied Lebanon militarily and politically for nearly three decades. In 2005, troops were forced to pull out under international pressure after the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.

Yet, seven years after Syria withdrew from Lebanon, the country's political forces remain sharply divided over events unfolding within their neighbour's borders.

In August, the Lebanese city of Tripoli witnessed sectarian clashes between Sunni Islamists, the Assad opposition, and Alawite Muslims loyal to a Hezbollah-led alliance backed by Iran and Al-Assad's ruling regime.

Several houses caught fire and cars were damaged in the fight, adding to the fears of Syria's conflict increasingly spilling over into Lebanon and destabilising the already fragile security situation. A wave of kidnappings was seen as well.

Hundreds of soldiers with tanks and military vehicles were deployed on the aptly named Syria Street -- which acts both as the dividing line between Sunni Bab al-Tebanneh and Alawite Jabal Mohsen and as the frontline when fighting erupts.

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