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Posts Tagged ‘Lebanon’

Norway to take in 1 000 Syrian refugees

Posted by African Press International on September 23, 2013

 

“The Government decided today to accept 1 000 Syrian refugees for resettlement to Norway. The war in Syria has led to an acute refugee situation. Syria’s neighbouring countries have taken in close to two million refugees. The capacity of these countries is at breaking point and the UNHCR has appealed to other countries to help,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide.

There is no immediate solution to the conflict in Syria in sight. So far the conflict has led to massive flows of refugees to Syria’s neighbouring countries. In mid-September some 730 000 Syrian refugees were registered in Lebanon, 520 000 were registered in Jordan, 464 000 in Turkey, 117 000 in Iraq and 117 000 in Egypt. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Syria’s neighbouring countries have appealed to countries outside the region to resettle some of the refugees currently living in Syria’s neighbouring countries as a matter of urgency.

“Syria’s neighbouring countries have displayed an enormous sense of responsibility for the refugees from Syria. One in every four people in Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee. Syria’s neighbouring countries, in particular Lebanon and Jordan, are reaching the limit of what they can cope with. If nothing is done, they may choose to close their borders. It is therefore crucial that Norway and other like-minded countries show solidarity and take in Syrian refugees,” Mr Eide said.

Following calls from UNHCR, Norway has provided substantial aid to help Syrian refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries. Since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, Norway has provided a total of NOK 850 million in humanitarian aid.

The further quota of 1 000 refugees from Syria will come in addition to Norway’s annual UNHCR resettlement quota of approximately 1 200 refugees.

“Norway has a tradition of doing what it can in response to major international refugee crises and of providing a safe haven for refugees. This time is no exception. We know that Norwegian municipalities will make every effort to take in and integrate these refugees. As a country we can be proud of this and we will do everything we can to support the municipalities in this process,” said Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion Inga Marte Thorkildsen.

The additional resettlement quota that the Government has decided to establish is reserved for refugees from Syria who are recognised by UNHCR, preferably those living in Lebanon and Jordan. The total cost of the quota is estimated to be approximately NOK 770 million.

 

 

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/MFA

 

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“Urgent” needs widely ignored

Posted by African Press International on September 20, 2013

TAALABAYA, 6 September 2013 (IRIN) – One August morning, Khadijeh Sayyid Ahmad, 65, sits in a rooftop room of a half-constructed building in Lebanon while she waits for her husband to return from prayers. The sun filters through the pink tarpaulin that serves as a ceiling, creating a glow over her wizened face. 

She shifts from side to side on a mattress as her relatives try to console her. Reports of an alleged chemical attack in her Syrian hometown of Muadhamiya have just spread to her refugee gathering, and she is barely able to control her tears.“The problem is that when she gets distressed, her blood pressure starts to rise. This makes us very afraid for her heart condition,” says her son Ahmad.

Khadijeh is one of thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon who are over 60 and quietly suffering from a host of health and psychological problems. Elderly Syrian refugees elsewhere in the region face similar challenges. The humanitarian community has struggled to cater for the special needs of the age group, which is disproportionately affected by the violence and displacement.

“Older refugees have so many needs, which are not yet a priority to the humanitarian aid actors responding to this crisis,” the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC) wrote in a 27 August report, which described the elderly as an “often forgotten population of refugees… whose needs have been widely ignored in this crisis…

“We know from experience,” the report went on, “that older persons suffer in silence, quietly stepping aside so that younger members of their families can access services and aid.”

While according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), 6 percent of the Syrian population was above the age of 60 before the conflict, only 2.5 percent of refugees in Lebanon are that age. Elderly people struggle to register with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) because they cannot reach the registration centres easily.

That was one of the findings of a quick assessment of 70 elderly refugees in May by Claire Catherinet, an inclusion advisor with HelpAge, on secondment to Handicap International in Lebanon. It echoed the findings of CMLC: Many elderly cannot afford their medication, and most are dependent on humanitarian assistance for things as basic as food because they have no livelihood opportunities, said Catherinet

“They benefit from all the humanitarian assistance, but there is no special attention [given to elderly people], as there is for women and children,” she told IRIN. “As among the most vulnerable people in times of emergencies, older persons are neglected.”

In a statement to IRIN, UNHCR said it would like to “do more than we currently do” for refugees with special needs, “but because of lack of funds and capacity, we are not able to meet all the needs and give the assistance they would deserve.”

Khadijeh Sayyid Ahmad tells of family members killed in Syria.

Limited mobility

In its study, conducted in coordination with Johns Hopkins University, CLMC interviewed 175 elderly Syrian refugees (in addition to 45 elderly Palestinian refugees from Syria) and drew on 10 years of experience working with older people at Palestinian refugee camps.

The impetus of the study came during a visit to one of the tented settlements in eastern Lebanon. One of CLMC’s staff members was shocked to find an elderly woman staring at him from under a blanket in the mud. Her family said they had grown tired of moving her frail body from her mattress to the home-made latrine outside. So they decided to leave her lying next to her toilet, to answer calls of nature without their help.

CLMC has since purchased a wheelchair for the family and secured a tent for them near a concrete toilet, but there are many other families with elderly people that do not receive this kind of assistance.

Akram al-Kilani, 63, who sought refuge in Lebanon’s eastern Beka’a Valley, said the biggest problem he has faced since arriving in Taalabaya several weeks ago is the public bathroom. He must walk for nearly five minutes to reach it.

“We’re very grateful to the people providing for us here. But tap water in the tents and nearby toilets are absolute necessities for us,” said al-Kilani.

“Urgent” needs

According to CLMC’s findings, the elderly’s needs are widespread and urgent. Sixty-six percent of the elderly surveyed described their overall health status as bad or very bad, with most respondents having multiple chronic illnesses.

Of the elderly refugees surveyed by Caritas:
87 percent could not afford the medication they require
74 percent depended on humanitarian assistance to meet their basic needs
60 percent had hypertension
47 percent had diabetes
30 percent had some form of heart disease
10 percent were physically unable to leave their homes
4 percent were bedridden
“Significant proportions” sensed they were a burden to their families

Catherinet said the inability to afford their medication had resulted in swollen limbs, difficulty breathing and walking, and in some cases, an inability to leave their beds. Many people resorted to returning to Syria to get medication for elderly members of their family, she said.

The health status of the elderly is often linked to their state of mind, said Hessen Sayah, coordinator for Syrian refugee projects at CLMC, who has extensive experience with elderly Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. When CLMC’s psychosocial programmes in the Palestinian camps had run their course, she said, the elderly community saw a sharp increase in diabetes.

Prioritizing younger people

Undergirding the issues faced by elderly refugees is an expectation that they must suffer in silence so that younger people may fulfil their needs first.

The CLMC survey found that malnutrition among the elderly was prevalent due to reductions in meal sizes and insufficient intake of fruit, vegetables and meat, with the intention of leaving more to younger people.

Khadijeh serves as a case in point. She refuses to seek treatment for her heart palpitations, preferring to use the family’s limited money on healthcare for her son, who recently broke his arm.

“There’s just no point in me going to the hospital,” she told IRIN. “There is nothing left for me but death.”

Um Lateef*, 63, is unsure about whether to replenish her dwindling medical supplies because she does not want to endure “the humiliation” of asking humanitarian groups for help.

Elderly can play a role

But CLMC is now hard at work to prove that there is indeed a point to keeping the elderly healthy. CLMC espouses alleviating the problem by changing the way we view the elderly, who tend to be more effective negotiators with host communities because of the respect garnered by their age. They can also offer stability to a household overwrought by the stress of displacement.

“When we give the elderly their value, they are able to intervene in problems, domestic or otherwise… and this in turn improves their health,” Sayah said.

With over 722,000 refugees in Lebanon, there are widespread reports of growing resentment between the refugees and their Lebanese hosts. The presence of refugees in some 1,400 localities around the country has chipped away at government-funded pharmaceutical stocks, as well as increased competition in the job market and raised housing prices.

CLMC says older people can provide a calm and sagacious face for the refugee community, helping to soothe tensions with their hosts. However, refugees and humanitarian workers must recognize the elderly’s capacity to fill this role.

“We try as much as possible to involve [the] elderly in [the] community center’s activities, also to use their advisory role with youth and other community members,” UNHCR said in its statement. “The challenge is sometimes the fact that [the] elderly need special logistics assistance for transportation to the centers and unfortunately we do not have enough funds and capacity to transport many of them.”

Ahmad Dattouf wishes he could go fight in Syria, even at his age.

Ahmad Dattouf, 63, breaks into sobs as he talks about the alleged chemical attacks on eastern Damascus suburbs that morning. “What is happening these days has never been seen before. The situation is still very bad,” he says.

He is racked with guilt about whiling away his days between four grey concrete walls in Lebanon.

“Even at this age, my body urges me to go fight with those heroes [in Syria].”

HelpAge and Handicap International will be conducting a more detailed assessment of elderly Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey in the coming weeks, with findings to be ready in the fall.

*not a real name

tq/ha/cb/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

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My decision to leave Syria came in a hurry, prompted by the sight of my mother after I was released from two weeks of detention.

Posted by African Press International on September 19, 2013

DAMASCUS, – The writer is a recent graduate of the University of Damascus from a well-to-do family belonging to a Syrian minority. For security reasons he prefers to stay anonymous. In this diary entry, he describes being arrested and his subsequent departure from Syria.

My decision to leave Syria came in a hurry, prompted by the sight of my mother after I was released from two weeks of detention.

I had been politically active for some time, but because I belong to one of Syria’s many religious minorities, I was left alone, aside from a few inquiries by the authorities. They contacted my grandfather, a high-ranking regime party member, and asked him to “put me in line”.

That was the extent of it – until one day in July 2012. I was arrested at a demonstration in the Rukn el-Deen neighbourhood of the capital, where singing and chanting protesters were dispersed with live ammunition. I spent two weeks in solitary confinement in a basement, immune to the maltreatment others have suffered because of my minority status. Still, my stint at the department of state security’s branch in Kafar Souseh ended with a clear warning. “I know you want to go to Spain to study,” one officer told me. “I suggest you go now.”

I didn’t care much for what he said until I got home and saw my mother. She was not the elegant mid-40s woman I knew. After two weeks of not knowing where I was or how long they would keep me, she was barely alive. Her lips were cracked, her eyes swollen from crying, her already thin frame 15kg lighter. I knew she would not survive another bout of her only son in prison, or worse, killed.

I decided then and there to pack my bags. But I wasn’t psychologically prepared to leave so much history behind with little time to say goodbye. I was overwhelmed with emotion as friends streamed through a café to wish me off. So many friendships, built over years, were about to come to an end.

I spent my last hours in Damascus with a friend and my sister, visiting the sites one last time. First stop was the spice market in the old city of Damascus. At night, it is a magical place, its scent a breeze of paradise. You can stand there for hours without saying a word, just taking it in. Then we watched the sun rise from the Omayyad Mosque, also a unique Damascus experience.

I packed my bags with clothes, books and a few souvenirs, then sat down for a last morning coffee with my parents, telling jokes to try to make them laugh.

My mother tried to stay resolute, but because she and I do not have a convention mother-son relationship – instead we are good friends – I could sense her deep feelings of injustice. She felt I was being kicked out of my country. But she did not say a word. Instead, she wished me luck, told me to take care of myself, instructed me to come back as soon as possible, and insisted I not worry about anything else.

I resisted getting into the cab that would take me to Lebanon. My departure was now more real than ever. Within the hour, I would be out of Syria.

It amazes me how much taxi drivers can yap. It upset me at first. I needed a little peace to brood as I took one last look at Damascus. But by the time we crossed the Damascus-Beirut Highway, I found myself grateful for his distracting conversation.

It took us a long time to cross the border because there were so many people there, entire families that had packed all they could carry and delved into the unknown completely unprepared. I saw one woman wearing shoes that did not match. She must have left in an even bigger hurry than I had. I was about to enter a life of refuge.

 

Source http://www.irinnews.org

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Norway condemns terrorist attacks in Lebanon

Posted by African Press International on August 24, 2013

The terrorist attacks in Tripoli this week and in Beirut last week have killed dozens of people and wounded several hundred more. “Norway condemns the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Lebanon over the past weeks. Our thoughts go to those who have been affected and their families,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide.

The civil war in Syria has placed great strain on Lebanon and other countries in the region, in the form of large numbers of refugees, rising sectarian tensions and an increased risk of violent conflict.

“I am deeply concerned by the increase in violence in Lebanon. It will be a tragedy if the conflict in Syria takes hold in Lebanon too. Lebanon has a recent history of sectarian violence. It is now crucial that all parties refrain from acts that could heighten tensions in Lebanese society,” Mr Eide said.

 

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Anger, lost hope and sometimes newfound happiness

Posted by African Press International on August 6, 2013

Children stretch before class at Najda Now

SHATILA CAMP, LEBANON, 30 July 2013 (IRIN) – The conflict in Syria has killed more than 6,500 children, turned nearly one million into refugees, and left three million inside Syria in need of aid. Some have been disabled, mutilated, sexually abused, tortured in government detention and recruited by armed groups, at as young as age 12. Many have been deprived of their education. Many more have witnessed violence.

“Millions of children inside Syria and across the region are witnessing their past and their futures disappear amidst the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict.” – Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director

After a recent trip to Syria and its neighbouring countries, Leila Zerrougui, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said she was “overwhelmed” by what she saw.

“Children in Syria not only are affected [by the violence on a] daily basis – they have lost their family, they have lost their house – but they lost … hope. They are full of anger. And if this continues, we will face a generation of illiterates,” she told a press conference.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) worries Syria’s children could become “a lost generation”.

In Lebanon, where hundreds of thousands have sought refuge, the NGO Najda Now helps children recover from trauma through theatre and art. Usually, children’s drawings are dark in colour and theme when they first arrive; they become more colorful and positive over time. Most of the time, children draw two things: what they want and what they are afraid of.

IRIN visited Najda Now’s ‘s psychosocial support centre “Tomorrow is Ours”. Here are a few of the children we met.

Ahmed, nine, left Homs because of intense air bombing. He spent some two years in Syria amid the conflict; and this environment became normal for him. He talked about it as if it was just a movie. He was lucky enough not to have seen any violence himself, but had some temporary trauma when he arrived in Lebanon one month ago, psychologists said, mostly linked to noises. In Syria, he lived in a village in the countryside, with vast open spaces. Now, he lives in the crowded Shatila camp for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Ahmed drew what he wants: a spacious house, a dog, and the sea.

Ahmed

IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Ahmed: Because of the war.

What happened?
They hit with planes and cannons.

Do you have friends here in Lebanon?
Ahmad does not answer; he seems stressed by the question.

How do you like it here?
I prefer Syria, because in Syria I have a lot of friends.

What do you remember from Syria?
Before, when there was no war, I could go wherever I wanted and I liked it. Here in Lebanon, when I go out, my Mum is stressed. Before, when there was no war in Syria, and I went out, I had freedom.

***

Sohah, 12, says she is happy in Lebanon. The centre’s theatre classes have helped her decompress from the stress of seeing guns being shot in the air and people being transported by ambulances. Her Palestinian parents settled in the southern Syrian town of Dera’a when they sought refuge themselves decades earlier. Now, they are displaced once more. She arrived in Lebanon four months ago.

Sohah

IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Sohah: There were a lot of problems.

Which kind of problems?
A lot of bombs and clashes with guns.

What do you like to do here in the centre?
I like to draw; I like to do theatre; I like to study. What I like the most is the theatre.

Tell us about your drawing.
This is us when we were acting. Me and my friends are singing. I wrote the song that we were singing.

What is the song about?
It says we want peace; we want to go back to our country; we don’t want war any more.

What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to be an actress, famous around the whole world.

***

When Ashraf, eight, arrived at the centre from Hama six months ago, he was aggressive and fought with other children. Psychologists attribute this to what he saw and heard in Syria and stress likely passed down from his parents. Ashraf has not drawn anything; instead he is making a worm out of playdough.

Ashraf

IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Ashraf: The government attacked the revolutionaries at the entrance of the town. We knew that the others [the rebels] would be upset and answer, and that they [the government] would attack the whole city. And that’s what ended up happening.

What do you miss about Syria?
In Syria, I played with the computer.

But here in the centre there is a computer room.
Yes, but in Syria I had a computer at home and I could play.

And here, what do you like to play?
Hide-and-seek

Do you have a drawing to show us?
No, I don’t like to draw. I don’t like playdough either. I like to play ball.

***

Faysal’s mother is a nurse. She used to treat people in their home in Rural Damascus. So by the time the 11-year-old came to Lebanon nine months ago, he had seen many corpses, including his uncle who was shot dead by a sniper on a rooftop.

Faysal

IRIN: Why did you come to Lebanon?
Faysal: I came to Lebanon because there were attacks in my village.

Who do you live with?
My grandmother, my grandfather, my mother, my aunt, my other aunt and her husband, my other grandfather. My uncle was a martyr. Also there are two children on my dead uncle’s side, and two children on my other uncle’s side. I have a little sister. She’s three years old and when she is big enough, I want her to join me at school.

What do you miss about Syria?
My friends, my house, and my uncle.

What do you prefer: Syria or Lebanon?
I grew up in Syria, I prefer Damascus, but here I like the theatre. I prefer here for the theatre because there it didn’t exist. In Damascus, I didn’t know how to sing. Now, I can rap.

Can you tell us about your drawing?
I drew it based on a picture; we copied a photo. My drawings were in an exhibition and I sold two of my three drawings. The girl, she’s a princess.

What do you want to do when you grow up?
I want to be a painter.

ar/ha/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Lebanese farmers at risk due to Syrian crisis

Posted by African Press International on June 15, 2013

On the outskirts of El Qaa village

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Border fighting leads farmers to abandon fields
  • Traditional migration patterns disrupted
  • Influx of Syrian animals poses disease risk
  • FAO urges more funding for agriculture

EL QAA, 13 June 2013 (IRIN) – The livelihoods of dozens of farmers just outside this small village, in a remote area of Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley near the Syrian border, hang in the balance.

Local farmers say many in the no-man’s land between the Syrian and Lebanese frontier posts, known as Mashari El Qaa, have abandoned their farms in recent months, in some cases leaving their equipment and running when they see Syrian rebels approaching. Others have stopped planting because of landmines or reduced their visits to their fields.

“We don’t go there every day like before,” said Joseph, a local farmer. “We go once or twice a week, and we harvest or plant whatever we can. We’re harvesting a bit but we have a lot of losses. We don’t [have] the time to harvest properly. We do it in a rush.”

The border between Syria and Lebanon, blurry to begin with, has become increasingly so in recent months, as both Syrian rebels and regime soldiers cross into Lebanese territory to fight.

Up to 60 percent of the border area’s population depends on agriculture and raising livestock, which have come under growing strain as cross-border fighting has increased between forces supporting and opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict next door.
Anais

Syrian anti-government rebels have used Lebanese farms to launch rockets into Shia villages in Hermel District 17km from El Qaa, allegedly aiming at villages controlled by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which has been fighting in support of al-Assad’s forces inside Syria. Syrian government forces have also chased rebels into Lebanese territory.

Dwindling marketplace

Those farmers who do manage to harvest despite the insecurity struggle to sell their products, as they are competing with cheaper products smuggled in from Syria.

“The situation is bad in Syria,” said Pierre Saad, another farmer in El Qaa, “so they smuggle and sell their fruits here, where they are still going get a better price than in Syria. It’s heavy competition for us. The local people… just go for the cheapest product.”

That’s partly why in Firzil, one of the biggest fruit and vegetable markets in Lebanon’s fertile Beka’a Valley, most of the trucks leaving the market are three-quarters full.

“Last week, I sold the basil for 2,000 Lebanese lira [US$1.33] per kg,” merchant Mohssein Taleb said during a visit in May, displaying his unsold fruit and vegetables. “This week, I sell it for 800 LL per kg. And before, I was even selling it for 3,000 LL per kg.”

Part of the problem, he said, was an absence of big buyers for export.

According to Lebanese customs, bilateral agricultural exports from Lebanon to Syria decreased by 37 percent between 2011 and 2012, from 234,725 to 148,414 tons. In dollar figures, however, the drop was much more modest, from $95,279 to $93,578, or a drop of 1.8 percent.

Before the conflict began, 20 percent of Lebanese products were exported to Syria, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In addition, Syria is the only land trade route to Iraq, Turkey and the Gulf, by far the largest market in the region.

But the border crossing in Mashari El Qaa is now closed. For much of April and May, all transit of agricultural goods between Syrian and Lebanon was blocked, according to FAO. Some crossings reopened late last month, but moving goods to and through Syria remains extremely risky.

Many agricultural goods are now exported through the ports of Beirut and Tripoli. But not all merchants can afford exports via ship or plane. 

Barely living

A recent assessment by FAO of the impact of the Syrian crisis on food security and agricultural livelihoods in neighbouring countries found that it has become extremely difficult for Lebanese farmers to sustain their livelihoods.

“One coping mechanism that we have noticed is selling animals, and thereby livelihood opportunities”

“We’re not starving, but we will end up planting only for ourselves since we can’t export or sell easily on the local market,” said Saad.

Those most affected along the border are the poorest and most vulnerable to begin with; larger-scale farmers do not take the risk of settling in the more insecure border area, said Lisbeth Albinus, humanitarian policy officer at FAO in Lebanon.

Many of these small-scale farms survived from smuggling things like tobacco, fuel, food, or even electronics to Syria – something that has become more complicated due to the conflict.

FAO worries this combination of factors could leave farmers much more vulnerable in the long-term.

“One coping mechanism that we have noticed is selling animals, and thereby livelihood opportunities,” Albinus said.

In a 7 June press release, FAO warned that without further support, more farmers would ultimately have to abandon their land and sell their livestock.

Cross-border movement

The conflict has also interrupted migration trends.

According to the FAO assessment, some 30,000 poor smallholder Lebanese who had been farming in Syria for generations have now had to return to Lebanon.

The Lebanese returnees are in “panic”, the assessment found, selling their dairy cattle at one third of the market price due to high animal feed costs, lack of winter grazing land and a need to finance immediate household living costs.

Many Syrian farmers have also relocated to the Lebanese side of the border, first seeking refuge in Mashari El Qaa and now, for some, being displaced once again.

Some came empty-handed, “have lost everything and live in very difficult conditions”, FAO’s Albinus said.

Others brought animals with them, and have rented abandoned farms for their animals to graze.

According to FAO, hundreds of cows, as well as 12,000 Syrian mountain and Shami goats have crossed into northern Lebanon, bringing the added threats of overgrazing, land degradation and potential desertification.

At Firzil vegetable market, many merchants go home with their trucks nearly full

Adding more stress to the land, shepherds who used to spend summer on the Lebanese side and winter on the Syrian side, where it is dryer, have not been able to travel to Syria for the last two years.

The price of cattle, FAO said, has dropped by 60 percent.

Potential diseases

Before the Syrian crisis, agricultural inputs, such as vaccinations, farm machinery, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, animal feed and medicines were heavily subsidized in Syria. But veterinary services in Syria have weakened because of the conflict; animals coming from the Syrian market are not subject to any control, and some are not vaccinated, FAO said.

“One of our main concerns is the diseases that non-vaccinated animals could bring,” Albinus said.

Without proper checks, the increasing amount of smuggled agricultural commodities from Syria also significantly increases the risk of animal and plant diseases, including Foot and Mouth Disease and PPR, a viral disease also known as goat plague, the two most common transboundary animal diseases in the region, as well as the spread of plant pests.

The last outbreak of a transboundary animal disease in Lebanon occurred before the Syrian crisis in March 2010. Since then, the Ministry of Agriculture has been able to contain the threat. But “there is a sincere worry… that we will have another outbreak of these or other transboundary diseases in Lebanon,” Albinus said.

There is, however, a silver lining. Lebanon, which normally imports 60 percent of its dairy, could benefit from newly arrived Syrian shepherds in boosting local milk production. With the right support, “Lebanese and Syrian farmers working together could make a better livelihood, despite the Syrian crisis, Albinus said.

Funding

Farmers in Mashari El Qaa say government officials have visited them to assess their losses, “but until now, we haven’t received any concrete help,” Saad said.

Due to funding constraints, FAO has only been able to target the most vulnerable farmers in Lebanon, including the poorest smallholders, female-headed households and homes with disabled family members.

FAO has called for urgent financial support to establish farmers’ cooperatives and more milk collection centres; to implement a vaccination campaign to prevent the spread of animal diseases; and to establish food safety controls at the border.

As part of a regional UN-coordinated appeal for $4.4 billion launched on 7 June to help people in need inside Syria and in the affected neighbouring countries, FAO is requesting $8.5 million for proposed projects in Lebanon.

ar/ha/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Libya now helping the Syrians with refuge

Posted by African Press International on May 28, 2013

MISRATA,  – Two years ago Syrians in the relative security of their own country watched the unfolding crisis in Libya descend into a devastating civil war. 

Since then the tables have turned, and many of those same families find themselves in Libya after fleeing the Syrian conflict, which has left an estimated 6.8 million people (around a third of the population) in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.Most of the Syrian community in Libya, estimated at around 110,000 by government officials, are believed to have arrived over the past 18 months after having fled the Syrian conflict.

Shavan, a Syrian ethnic Kurd, arrived in Libya in January. “Alone, I left Syria at the end of 2011 leaving my wife and my daughter. I was looking for a place to live far away from the hell of conflict,” Shevan said.

After what he says was a difficult year in Lebanon, where he struggled to pay his living costs, he went back into Syria to pick up his family and then left for Libya.

The flow of Syrians to Libya, while far lower than the numbers seen arriving in Syria’s neighbours, started almost as soon as the Libyan revolution ended in October 2011.

Some come by air from Lebanon or Turkey, but most have arrived by road, heading through Jordan and then across the Sinai to the Libyan-Egyptian border town of El Salloum (in Egypt).

In the initial stages, Syrians with a passport could enter without a visa, but the rules have been tightened since the attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi in September 2012, after which only families, not single men, were allowed in.

Visa-less travel

From January this year, the coastal border crossing from El-Salloum to Musaid (Libya) has been closed to all non-Libyans without a visa, according to information from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Alongside this measure, the Libyan minister of interior invited his “Syrian brothers” who had previously entered the country without a visa, to register at any passport office to get a government letter confirming their asylum seeker status.

But it is still possible to get across the border without a visa. One Syrian who had recently entered Libya near El Salloum, and asked not to be named, told IRIN: “Smugglers charge US$500 to take Syrians across the border to Libya. I also saw some Syrian women who were using sex work to pay for their transit.”

“Suspicions about Syrian secret service infiltrations led the majority away from the operational centres managed by Syrian charities” Emmanuel Gignac, UNHCR Libya

Local NGOs in Libya run by Syrians were the first to provide relief, but many Syrian refugees have been reluctant to receive such aid.

“Suspicions about Syrian secret service infiltrations led the majority away from the operational centres managed by Syrian charities,” the head of the UNHCR in Libya, Emmanuel Gignac, told IRIN.

UNHCR registration

After an initial delay, UNHCR started formally registering Syrian asylum seekers and refugees in September 2012.

By the end of April 2013, around 8,000 Syrians were registered with UNHCR as asylum seekers, though because of UNHCR’s lack of a formal legal agreement with the government, the asylum seekers cannot advance to the agency’s refugee status determination (RSD) process.

The majority of Syrian asylum seekers in Libya are in the second city, Benghazi, due to its proximity to the Egyptian border.

Large Syrian communities are also in Tripoli, mainly in the Suq Al Jumua, Janzoor and Hasham areas, while ethnic Kurdish Syrians in the capital have established a base on the outskirts in Ben Ghashir.

Syrian charities provide support and some aid. “You can ask their help to register your kids in the local schools or to get medical assistance,” Bilal*, originally from the Syrian town of Hama, told IRIN.

The delivery of items such as blankets, mattresses and kitchen cooking sets is carried out regularly by Syrian organizations along with the Libyan organization Al Wafa and international agencies like UNHCR, the Danish Refugee Council and the Italian NGO CESVI.

Visiting UNHCR teams also assist the Syrians in Tripoli and Benghazi. The agency has opened a Centre for Community Development for vulnerable cases, and set up a hotline for Syrian asylum seekers.

The call centre receives around 40 phone calls a day – often appeals for medical or cash assistance, according to UNHCR associate RSD officer Valda Kelly.

The presence of Syrians in Benghazi has created some tension, and recently the city’s commission in charge of regulating foreign labour, immigrants and refugees called on the national government and congress to reduce the number of people coming into the country to avoid security, economic, political and social risks.

Why Libya?

Despite the distance from their home country, many Syrians cited a lower cost of living and greater job opportunities as the reason for travelling to Libya, rather than the more common Syrian refugee hubs like Jordan and Lebanon. Some also had spent time in Libya before the Arab Spring, when most foreign nationals were evacuated.

But living costs remain a challenge for many in the Syrian community: “I pay 600 dinars (US$465) a month for an apartment and I barely earn 900,” Ali who had fled from Duma, on the outskirts of Damascus, told IRIN. 

The poverty of many has given rise to practices seen elsewhere in the region: “Syrian women have been offering themselves as brides to the Libyans because they have no alternative for their survival,” said Mohamed, a Syrian refugee living in the coastal town of Misrata.

Other Syrians in Misrata confirmed this was happening. “In Benghazi Syrian girls are called `sheep’ for their low price. Even regular men already with one wife can afford a new young wife,” another Syrian told IRIN.

Shiite fears

Many Syrians told IRIN the Libyans had been welcoming. Ahmad, a Libyan civil engineer working for an Italian company in Misrata, told IRIN: “They are our brothers as they still suffer what we have experienced. They have every right to remain in Misrata.”

Local officials in Misrata told IRIN there are about 5,000 Syrian refugees in the town.

Misrata, known as a base for anti-Gaddafi militia activity, is awash with Gaddafi-era weapons, and locals say a blind eye is turned to Syrians buying the weapons for export.

Some local reports in Libya say former revolutionary fighters in Libya, particularly from Benghazi and Misrata, have been travelling in the opposite direction to join the anti-government forces in Syria.

Not everyone is welcoming though. “Because of my Kurdish name, I was threatened often at ordinary checkpoints because Libyans thought I was not a Sunni Syrian but a Shiite,” said Shavan.

Syria’s now two-year conflict began when people, largely of the Sunni majority, began protesting on masse against President Bashar al-Assad, of the minority Alawite sect (Shia), and has become increasingly sectarian as the violence has increased.

*not a real name

np/jj/cb  source http://www.irinnews.org

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A day in the life of a family hosting Syrian refugees

Posted by African Press International on May 26, 2013

SAADNAYEL, BEKAA VALLEY,  – Two years ago, as Syrian refugees began streaming across borders, Lebanese families opened up their homes. Unlike in Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of refugees are being housed in camps, at the beginning of the influx into Lebanon, the majority of refugees were hosted by families. Some Lebanese households to ok in as many as six refugee families.

But as the conflict next-door has dragged on and the number of refugees in Lebanon has grown, so too has the burden on their Lebanese hosts.Today, most of the 425,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon are renting homes or apartments; with only 6 percent hosted by families, according to a survey by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).IRIN spent a day with some Lebanese hosts, bringing you this portrait of a family trying to balance obligation and sacrifice.

It was a series of twists of fate
that brought together two families – one Lebanese, one Syrian – that did not know one another.They met 15 years ago in a shared cab on the way to Syria, where the Lebanese family often shopped for cheaper products. Becoming friends, they met once or twice a year in Syria after that.

When Israel began bombing Lebanon in 2006, as part of a war with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the Lebanese family fled to Syria, where their new acquaintances hosted them for one month.

Six years later, the tables were turned.

On a sunny Thursday morning, Hannan is preparing a simple Lebanese breakfast of bread and vegetables for guests in the small Sunni village of Saadanayel, in Lebanon’s eastern Beka’a Valley.

Houda, 7, Bassima, 14, and their grandparents Sadika and Mohammad are seated on the floor of the living room, preparing to eat.

Hannan has been hosting the family of seven Syrian refugees in her humble two-bedroom house for the last five months. The children’s parents, Fadia and Houssam, have been out since early morning, like every day, searching for jobs in the surrounding cities of the Beka’a Valley. Their third child, 10-year-old Kamal, is out fetching water.

When their neighbourhood near the Syrian capital Damascus was bombed in December 2012, Fadia and Houssam called the only people they knew in Lebanon, and Hannan immediately responded.

“It’s a pity. They had nowhere to go,” she said. “I couldn’t say no. It would have been an offence against God not to help them.”

Hannan’s husband has a second wife, and only sleeps at the house every other day. Their five grown children do not live at home any more. So Hannan gave up her bedroom for the young Syrian couple, and is now sharing the second room with the grandparents and three children.

She spends her morning with the grandparents, interrupting their chit-chat every five minutes to take laundry off the clothesline, prepare coffee, garden, and watch over the refugee children playing in the field next door (They arrived in Lebanon too late in the year to enrol in school).

Everyone helps out with the household tasks, even Sadika, who has arthritis and leg pains. Fadia helps with the cooking and cleaning when she gets home from the job search. But as far as Hannan is concerned, that’s the easy part.

“I am used to cooking a lot of food for my visitors, so I don’t mind cooking for 10 people. It is not the logistical side which is difficult. It is the financial side,” she whispers. “We are struggling to get enough food for everyone.”

The Syrian family has run out of money, so she, her husband and her seven guests live off the little money her husband gets from his pension, from their rented out horse pen, and from the garlic they grow in the backyard, which they trade for other vegetables.

They have cut back on meat almost completely and Hannan and her husband no longer buy new clothes or things for the house.

“I don’t want to tell them that it’s difficult, because I fear God,” Hannan says. “In 2006 when I stayed at their place it was different. I was staying with the grandparents, and it was only for a month.”

Around midday, the visitors begin stopping by. First it is the neighbours; then shisha-smoking friends of Hannan’s son, some of them Lebanese soldiers; then her own friends. They pass the time under the shadows of trees in the garden. The coffee is always flowing. The visits do not stop until late afternoon.

They chat about everything and nothing, and when the discussion turns towards the situation in Syria, Hannan springs out of her seat, and disappears into the house, finding a new task to keep busy. She doesn’t say so, but the discussions appear to make her uncomfortable. At the very least, she’s tired of it. “They spend all day talking about Syria,” she says.

At 2pm, the school bus drops off the neighbours’ children, who join the Syrian children chasing each other around the field. Shortly after their arrival, Fadia returns from hours of job-hunting. She cannot afford to take the bus every day, so sometimes she walks for kilometres.

She checks on her children, then immediately turns to helping Hannan with the daily tasks. She doesn’t get very far before a new visitor arrives.

A local representative from the Sunni political party Future Movement has stopped by. (He sometimes distributes food vouchers to the Syrian refugees, but he does not have any with him this time).

“They’re lucky to have found a host family,” Anouar Choubasse says. “A lot of Syrian refugees have nothing, not even a roof.”

Fadia is a little surprised by his arrival and keeps her distance. She has tried to keep her family’s presence as discrete as possible – potentially for fear of the growing resentment towards the refugees in Lebanon. She never shares her opinions about politics.

“Saadnayel has always been a [hospitable] community,” says Choubasse. “But now, I can feel the racism growing. A lot of Lebanese people are in a difficult situation and don’t get any help. It’s not as bad [here] as in certain villages, where they imposed curfews on the Syrians. But people are losing patience.”

This Lebanese host family appears to be no exception.

His wife may fear God, but Hannan’s husband Ali does not hesitate to speak openly when he comes home later in the afternoon.

“When I sleep here, I have to sleep on the couch in the living room. I want to sleep in the same bed as my wife again. If the situation lasts for more than two more months, I will set up the family in a tent in the garden. If they will be staying for the long term, I will build a permanent structure for them.”

He pauses to consider.

“Of course we need to help them,” he goes on. “As the Arabic saying goes: ‘If someone is good to you, be twice as good to them’. But we need our intimacy at some point.”

By 4.30pm, the visitors begin trickling out. The Syrian father, Houssam, is still not home. His wife hopes his delay means he has found a job.

While Mohammad, the grandfather, takes a nap in the living room, Fadia and Hannan have lunch together. To accommodate the constant stream of visitors, they have to eat in two shifts. Today, the women eat first. They usually mix with the men, but this change of circumstances makes them laugh. “In the old Damascene tradition, the men ate before the women,” Fadia says. “Now it’s the opposite.”

Whereas both Fadia and Hannan seemed uncomfortable with some of the visitors talking politics, the atmosphere during lunch is much more relaxed.

Houssam eventually returns, still jobless. He is frustrated, but does not show it.

“I have been looking for a job for five months now and haven’t found anything,” he says. “There is too much unemployment in the area and they hire the Lebanese before hiring Syrians… I could take any job, as long as it’s not too physical because I have heart problems,” he adds.

They chit-chat together on the front porch until the sun sets.

At night, they watch a drama series – careful to turn on the TV only after the news is over. Hannan tries to distract them with happier thoughts.

“We don’t want to follow what is happening in Syria,” she explains. “It is too emotional for the Syrian family to talk about it. When you host a Syrian family, you have to be careful and subtle about the topics you talk about. You also have to be really patient.” And apparently, you also have to have a lot of coffee.

ar/ha/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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