BEIRUT, 4 July 2011 (IRIN) – The number of Syrians who have fled to Lebanon is fluctuating from week to week, but many have found it difficult to meet basic needs – especially shelter, food, health care and protection – sources say.
“Large families, families in extreme poverty, people with extreme medical conditions, and the physically and mentally disabled need help [which] relief workers are having difficulty providing,” said Dana Sleiman, public information associate with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon.
Last month over half of the several thousand Syrian asylum-seekers in Lebanon returned home, but recently more have been arriving, according to Sheikh Abdullah, a religious leader in Wadi Khaled town in the northwest.
“Two complete villages on the outskirts of Homs migrated,” he said, noting that the refugees had brought along many of their possessions, including cattle. He said that around 3,000 Syrians had crossed into Lebanon on 29 June. Officials at two international NGOs operating in Wadi Khaled, who declined to be named, told IRIN more had arrived on 30 June.
Local media also reported the arrival of hundreds of asylum-seekers on 24-26 June – mainly women and children from the Syrian towns of Hadath, Arida and Tal Kallakh.
Other reports said around two-thirds of the displaced Syrians were living with relatives or friends across the border in Lebanon. In the northern district of Akkar a reception centre has been opened to assist the asylum-seekers.
UNHCR, Lebanon’s Higher Relief Council, the Ministry of Social Affairs and other partners are assisting the asylum-seekers. Government officials could not be reached for comment.
Lebanon and Syria have a complex political relationship: Official Lebanese reactions to events in Syria have been muted, with some Lebanese politicians supporting Damascus’s line on the demonstrations – i.e. that not many Syrians are taking part in them.
Meanwhile, US-based NGO Human Rights Watch has accused the Lebanese authorities of arresting some of those arriving – allegedly for entering the country illegally or not having proper identification. In late June, the government said it had released all the Syrian asylum-seekers it had detained.
“The government said it would give three-month circulation permits to Syrian refugees and announced that it will not detain them for illegal entry,” the UNHCR’s Sleiman said. “So we are not worried about that. We are on good talking terms with the government.”
The Syrians are fleeing ongoing protests that started in their country in mid-March. At least 1,100 people are estimated to have died, including more than 50 during protests after Friday prayers on 3 June. More than 10,000 have also been arrested, according to human rights observers.
Far more Syrians have been fleeing to Turkey. On 21 June, UNHCR said 500-1,000 people had been crossing from Syria into Turkey daily since 7 June. More than 10,000 were being sheltered by Turkish authorities in four camps along the Turkey-Syria border.
UNHCR, on a visit to the Syrian village of Jisr al Shugour near the border, found it almost deserted, with most shops shuttered and closed. “Syrian refugees spoke to our team about their fears and trauma,” spokesman Andrej Mahecic said.
“Many had lost family members, whom they said were either killed, missing or in hiding. Our team heard accounts of murders, targeted assassinations, assaults, civilians getting killed in crossfire, torture and humiliation by the military. Most of these people had lost virtually all their belongings and property. In many cases their livestock were shot, fields were torched, and homes and businesses destroyed or confiscated.”
Fabio Torretta of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) noted that conditions for many of the Syrians in the camps were not good.
“People are living under tarpaulins; there are no sanitary facilities and the only source of water is a small lake. We’ve not seen any other support for these people apart from what the Turkish Red Crescent brings… They go back to their homes every two or three days to visit their relatives or to check their livestock, but are afraid to go back full-time.”
A June report by the UN high commissioner for human rights noted numerous allegations of excessive use of force by Syrian security forces against civilians, most of whom were peaceful protesters. It cited the use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians, including from snipers positioned on the rooftops of public buildings, and the deployment of tanks in areas densely populated by civilians.