Syria crisis situation update (Issue 48)

26 May 2013
Weekly Donors’ Report 26 May 2013
This week UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi visited Syria to witness the impact of conflict and displacement on Palestine refugees within Syria. UNRWA continues to respond to the needs of Palestine refugees in Syria, as well as those who have fled to Lebanon and Jordan, providing food, cash and NFIs, in addition to maintaining regular education, health and social services. The Agency operates in an increasingly challenging operational environment where armed conflict and threats to the lives and safety of UNRWA staff and refugees are commonplace; in the past week the Agency confirmed the release of two staff from detention and retrieved one vehicle which had previously been hi-jacked. The number of refugees who have fled Syria to neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan continues to rise and there are now over 54,500 and 6,000 being provided services by UNRWA in the respective countries. Inside Syria, just over 8,000 refugees are currently being provided shelter in UNRWA facilities, and many more are being provided accommodation in refugee camp communities.
UNRWA Commissioner-General visits Syria
UNRWA Commissioner-General Filippo Grandi visited Syria on 21-23 May to see first-hand the impact of conflict and displacement on Palestine refugees and to provide his personal support and encouragement for UNRWA’s operations.  Mr. Grandi met with Syrian Government officials and reinforced his message to Palestinians to preserve their neutrality and to keep out of the conflict. 
In Homs, Mr. Grandi visited UNRWA installations and listened to first-hand testimonies of the acute and distressing events the displaced refugees encountered as a result of the ongoing conflict. The refugees appealed for more humanitarian assistance and requested that UNRWA exert more efforts with parties to the conflict to stop the violence. 
While condemning the killing of civilians, UNRWA has repeatedly called for all parties to the conflict to pull back from civilian areas. All parties must respect international humanitarian law, avoid conducting the conflict in or around civilian areas, ensure freedom of movement and guarantee access for humanitarian organizations, including UNRWA.
In Jaramana Camp, Mr. Grandi visited an UNRWA school building which is serving as a temporary collective shelter for Palestinians who left their homes in search of safety.  He heard detailed accounts of their suffering and sense of dislocation. The young refugees in the camp briefed the Commissioner-General on their feelings of despair, lack of security and stress. They called on UNRWA to establish a job-creation programme for the youth in the camp and introduce psycho-social support for the traumatized children. Speaking to the refugees, Grandi said: “UNRWA will continue to provide emergency assistance to the displaced refugees to alleviate their suffering.”
Speaking to UNRWA staff, Mr. Grandi expressed his thanks and appreciation for their commitment and hard work in the face of personal displacement: “Keep up the good work and maintain your strength to be able to continue to provide assistance to those in greatest need.”
  • UNRWA Commissioner General, Filippo Grandi, visited Syria this week to witness first-hand the impact of conflict and displacement on Palestine refugees and the Agency’s own staff. The Commissioner General visited Homs and Jaramana Camp in Damascus and affirmed that UNRWA would continue its efforts to raise funds to respond to the growing needs of Palestine refugees in Syria.
  • Total of 8,270 IDPs in 21 UNRWA facilities across the country as of 19 May. 79% of IDPs are Palestine refugees. 7,840 displaced refugees are in 14 Damascus facilities alone.
  • Armed opposition groups have removed checkpoints blocking the road from Aleppo to Neirab Camp, enabling the movement of people and goods in and out of the camp for the first time in over a month.
  • Two UNRWA staff were released from detention by security forces this week. The first, an IT programmer at the Field Office, who had been detained from a relative’s house in Damascus on 13 April, was released last Wednesday and the second, a medical officer, was released on Monday. At least one of the staff members confirmed that he was made aware of interventions made on his behalf by the UN and UNRWA, and this appears to have expedited his release. 12 Agency staff are still missing, including mechanics, teachers, medical officers and a sanitation labourer.
  • One bus was retrieved from Masaken Zahera, Damascus this week, after it was commandeered and used as a barricade. There are now 21 car-jacked Agency vehicles still missing.
  • The school year ended this week, with most UNRWA schools stopping operations, apart from some 9th Grade students taking government exams.
IDP numbers in UNRWA facilities as of 19 May

Damascus Training Centre
Damascus (Jaramana Camp)
Damascus (Mezzeh)
Damascus (Khan Eshieh Camp)
Damascus (Ramadan Camp)
Damascus (Dummar)
Damascus (Rukn Eddin)
Damascus (Khan Dannoun Camp)
In addition, 4,419 Palestine refugees have been located at 12 non-UNRWA facilities in Damascus, Lattakia and Aleppo. 2,132 Palestine refugees have been identified in Hama Camp, having come from Yarmouk and Ein el Tal. 6,074 refugees have made themselves known to UNRWA in Homs Camp, having fled from Aleppo, Damascus and Homs countryside. 3,381 refugees have made themselves known to UNRWA in Latakia, having fled from Yarmouk and Ein el Tal. (Total: 16,006). UNRWA is providing food and NFI assistance to all displaced refugees who have approached the Agency.
Damascus / Rif Damascus: Sporadic shelling and clashes continued in many areas of the city this week, including Yarmouk, Sbeineh, Sit Zeinab, Husseiniyeh, Khan Eshieh, Jobar, Qaboun, Barzeh, Harasta and Douma. At least six refugees were killed in the reporting period, all in Yarmouk as a result of clashes. Armed opposition groups continue to occupy some refugee camps, and security forces have continued to block all access to Husseiniyeh and Sbeineh Camps. Schools in Ramadan Camp continue to be staffed by colleagues already living in the camp, but the health centre remains closed, as access from Damascus is still blocked. Two staff were this week released from detention by security forces in Damascus, apparently following successful interventions by UNRWA.
Aleppo: Sporadic clashes and shelling continue in certain parts of the city, including Bustan al Qasr, Leramon and the old city, mostly overnight. The Area Office remained operational, however, and three Agency schools are currently housing a total of 121 refugees from Ein el Tal Camp.Ein el Tal remains empty of refugees, and armed opposition groups reportedly remain in the camp. Refugees have periodically been able to enter the camp to retrieve personal belongings. Shelling and clashes also continue around Neirab Camp, particularly around the neighbouring airport. This week, armed opposition checkpoints along the road to Aleppo disappeared, and refugees can now move to and from Aleppo, enabling people and goods to enter the camp again.
Dera’a: The town and camp were relatively calm over the reporting period, except for a small number of shells landing in the vicinity of the camp and resulting security force operations. Intermittent shelling also continues around Mzerieb village, without any casualties. Jillien remains inaccessible from Dera’a, but some refugees temporarily returned via a side road, and the school remains open, staffed by colleagues living in the village. Access to the border remains effectively impossible, due to insecurity in the general area. The road to Damascus is technically open, but with clashes continuing around it, traffic is extremely light.
Homs: Intensive airstrikes and clashes were reported in neighbouring Quseyr, and occasionally also in Homs, but the camp remains calm with all facilities open. One refugee was reportedly kidnapped from the camp whilst going to work outside the camp. He was later found dead, leading to some demonstrations following the funeral. Most roads in and out of the city are blocked and telephone communication was again briefly cut off to area staff, but email contact was still possible. UNRWA Commissioner General, Filippo Grandi, visited the camp on Wednesday to observe conditions in the camp and to visit area staff in order to discuss the challenges faced by colleagues in the camp.
Hama:  Main roads to the camp were reportedly blocked at the start of the week, but the camp itself remained relatively quiet, accessible by side roads. At the end of the week, clashes were reported in the vicinity of the camp, and one refugee was killed by stray gunfire. All facilities remained operational however. There are now 103 refugees receiving shelter in UNRWA facilities in Hama Camp.
Lattakia: The situation remains calm and UNRWA continues to deliver services, but telecommunication was again cut off early in the week, with only email functioning. Refugees are reportedly still arriving from Ein el Tal, and UNRWA is providing shelter to 206 displaced refugees in its facilities.
Palestine Refugees from Syria in Lebanon
There are currently an estimated 54,500 Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS) in Lebanon at present. The current location of refugees is spread between Saida (31%), Beqaa (21%), Beirut (17%), Tyre (17%) and the north (14%).
UNRWA has responded to the growing education, recreation and psychosocial needs of PRS children of schooling age, with special classes focusing on Arabic, English and arithmetic, as well as recreational activities. There are currently 3,671 PRS students attending UNRWA schools, with 3,027 of those attending special classes for PRS students and 644 attending regular UNRWA classes. Thanks to a generous donation by the Norwegian government, UNRWA’s education programme has been able to distribute clothing vouchers to approximately 240 PRS children in the last week.
UNRWA continues to deliver medical consultations and medications through its 28 health centres. The Agency is covering primary health care along with donors and partners, but is only able to provide secondary and tertiary hospitalization for emergency and life-saving conditions. Recently UNRWA also started supporting PRS patients suffering from catastrophic health conditions through services provided by the CARE programme. This means that additional support will be provided to patients to cover expensive medical bills, including hospitalization, cancer medication and radiotherapy sessions. Medical bills of patients suffering from multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia and thalassemia (11 years and under) will also be covered.
UNRWA continues to position a Monitoring and Reporting Officer at the border in Masna’a to provide on the spot legal advice and direction to PRS as they enter the country from Syria, alerting them to the services offered by UNRWA and the procedures through which assistance can be accessed. PRS who do not register with UNRWA in Lebanon will not be able to benefit from some of the assistance provided.
PRS continue to be issued 7-day travel visas (valid for 15 days) upon entry, costing 25,000LL ($17). PRS can subsequently obtain a visa for a period of three months free of charge. The arrangement which allows PRS with expired visas to return to Syria without being subject to fines at the border remains in place. This has been renewed on a monthly basis since September 2012, and UNRWA remains cautiously optimistic that it will continue to be renewed monthly.
The protection unit will shortly begin a mapping of child protection and sexual and gender-based violence services in the camps, in coordination with the child protection and SGBV sector leads. This mapping will be integrated into the Agency’s regular programming and the results will be used to enhance coordination, referrals and access to services currently available.
UNRWA, along with the wider United Nations, continues to advocate with the Lebanese government for equal treatment of all refugees at the border. Palestine refugees in Lebanon are not covered under the mandate of UNHCR, and all Palestine refugees approaching UNHCR will be referred to UNRWA for assistance.
Palestinian Refugees from Syria in Jordan
As of 22 May 2013, UNRWA has recorded 1,693 Palestinian families of concern to the Agency. Currently, 197 Palestinians reside in Cyber City, the government appointed facility in Irbid governorate.
634 students are attending UNRWA schools.
UNRWA recently learned after the fact that two weeks ago a Syrian woman and her three Palestinian children were forcibly returned from Jordan to Syria. The family had fled from Dera’a and were registered with UNRWA.
Dreaming of a “normal life”
Twelve-year-old Hayam lives in a humble room with her mother, father and little sister, Tala. Hayam has poor eyesight, caused by a thyroid gland disorder, which prevents her from making new friends. She has become quiet since she came to Jordan.
The family left Damascus eight months ago, when the war destroyed their home. They ended up in a half-finished room in Al-Hussein camp in Amman with relatives of Hayam’s father. Outside the room, they have dug a squat toilet that has walls but no ceiling.
Hayam and her sister were both born with the same thyroid gland disorder. As a result, they have developed a rare condition that has weakened their bones and made them extremely vulnerable to accidents.
The girls need medication to prevent seizures and a tailored diet to regulate calcium and phosphorus levels in their blood. However, the family can’t afford the monthly expenses needed to keep the girls healthy. Their ill health and frequent seizures mean they cannot attend regular school. A kind neighbour who works at a private school takes the girls to school with her each day so they can socialize with other children in an environment where they can be closely supervised. In the meantime, UNRWA is working to identify a school where the girls can receive an appropriate education, in an environment that caters to their special needs.
“I want to go to school to learn and draw but my medical condition is affecting my health and sight,” Hayam says. “I go to a private school just to interact with other children, but I won’t qualify for final exams as I’m not a formal student,” she says.
Hayam’s mother, Amal, says education is important for her daughters and all Palestinians. “We are living another Nakba similar to what our grandparents experienced 65 years ago. If our children are not educated, the new generation will be illiterate and refugees for the rest of their lives,” she says.
For the two children, living through conflict and displacement is distressing. Identifying services to support their medical conditions and schools that respect their special needs are among the many challenges they face.
At her temporary school, Hayam remains shy and only opens up to people slowly.
“I wish I could go home and have a normal life. I want to draw and dream again,” she says.
* Names of individuals and places have been changed to protect the family’s identity.
[1] Nakba referring to the displacement of Palestinians that preceded and followed the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.
2013 Response Plan (January 2013 – June 2013):
·         The total pledged amount against the 2013 Response Plan now stands at US$ 78.1 million, equivalent to 85.6% of the total budget of the 2013 Response Plan required (US$ 91.24 million).
Another US$ 12.3 million are currently under discussion with several donors.