Posts Tagged With: Syrian refugees

Enhanced local coordination for effective aid provision: the case of Lebanon (September 2016)

The Policy brief I co-authored with UN Habitat (Beirut) and the ‘Issam Fares Institute (American University of Beirut) is finally out.

Here below its summary and the link to access it.

Lebanon’s refugee crisis has highlighted the need for much closer coordination among the various organisations and local authorities involved in the response. A new study has laid the groundwork for a series of recommendations, set out in this briefing, on how national, local and international humanitarian actors can work together more effectively to enhance urban refugee responses in Lebanon and perhaps in other countries. In the context of a protracted urban crisis, this briefing argues that humanitarians will only be able to ensure their responses are sustainable and meet needs on the ground if they work closely with local authorities.

Available online at: http://pubs.iied.org/17373IIED/

Categories: Lebanon, Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Responding to the Syrian crisis in Lebanon: collaboration between aid agencies and local governance structures (September 2016)

The Urban Crisis Report I co-authored with UN Habitat (Beirut) and the Issam Fares Institute (American University of Beirut) is finally out!

Here below the executive summary and the link to access the whole report.

This working paper seeks to document and analyse collaboration mechanisms between local authorities and humanitarian actors in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis in urban and peri-urban settings in Lebanon. It outlines existing mechanisms of collaboration, analyses their potential strengths and weaknesses, and derives lessons and recommendations for improving refugee responses in Lebanon, and potentially in other national settings. The report focuses on two case studies: the largely hybrid urban district of Bourj Hammoud, one of the main commercial hubs of Greater Beirut, and the peri-urban coastal region of Sahel El Zahrani, located between Saida and Tyre in South Lebanon. The response to the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon,which broke out in 2011, faced many challenges initially; namely the lack of a solid national response strategy
and weak local governance capacities, which were needed to respond to a large-scale crisis. International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and United Nations (UN) agencies took the initial lead in responding to the crisis. Local authorities, who were at the forefront of the response, lacked the adequate capacities to respond and thus were involved in a less organised manner. The humanitarian response suffered overall from weak coordination between international actors, the central government, and (in)formal local authorities, resulting in unequal and scattered aid distribution. As the crisis prolonged, the government of Lebanon (GoL) became increasingly involved and eventually, in 2015, led the development of the Lebanon Crisis
Response Plan (LCRP) jointly with UN agencies.
Various ministries took a more proactive role in the response, in particular the Ministry of Social Affairs (MoSA), which was designated by the Council of Ministers to take on an official role in the response. At the local level, municipalities and unions of
municipalities, despite lacking an official responsibility, made serious efforts to respond to the refugees due to increasing pressures in their localities and based on moral imperatives. International and UN agencies initially targeted Syrian refugees on the basis of the humanitarian principle of immediate alleviation of suffering following displacement. Local host communities, who were impacted by the crisis due
to the increase in the local population and a higher demand on limited basic services, were initially less involved and addressed in the response. This working paper explores the various formal and informal levels of collaboration, or lack thereof, between international and local organisations, UN agencies and local authorities. In Lebanon, establishing successful coordination mechanisms between national and local authorities and aid agencies is politically and logistically challenging. Due to funding constraints and limited programme timeframes, humanitarian organisations find it difficult to maintain a continuous long-term relationship with local municipalities and unions of municipalities.
Moreover, aid agencies often opt to bypass local authorities in project implementation in order to avoid local bureaucracy. Internal politics also create another challenge for coordination with local authorities, as this can interfere with the orientation of aid.
UN agencies and INGOs are now mostly turning short-term relief programmes into longer- term projects for development, and have shown serious efforts to adapt their responses to address local contexts more adequately. However, clearly defining roles among international and local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and UN agencies and establishing solid coordination mechanisms remains a challenge and is important to enhancing overall public management in urban crisis contexts.
The research concludes that complementing sectoral approaches by adopting area-based approaches to respond to emergency crises allows humanitarian and development programmes to address the needs of different vulnerable groups, including refugees and local communities, in a more efficient and sustainable manner.
This allows the implementation of more inclusive needs-based responses, whilst also preventing unequal aid distribution and the ‘compartmentalisation’ of society.
Moreover, this working paper highlights the weakness in focusing and adapting responses to respond to urban settings which host the majority of refugees. As such, it is important to raise awareness and develop the necessary tools and coordination mechanisms to optimally address refugees in urban contexts, especially with more refugees settling in urban areas worldwide. Finally, coordination efforts and mutual aid agreements for emergency service provision can provide a solid ground for local actors to know: first, how to turn international aid into an opportunity rather than financial and political dependency or reason for domestic marginalisation, and, second, to learn the advantages of domestic coordination, internal agreement, and develop the capacities to manage foreign aid. Overall, reinforcing the role of local authorities and actors has
proven to be more efficient and manageable in the short-term; however, over time, it also faces political limitations thus challenging the ability to reach a broader consensus on the management of domestic issues. This paper proposes a multi-scalar coordination
approach to respond to crises and address diverse
social vulnerabilities.

The report can be fully accessed here: http://pubs.iied.org/10799IIED/

Categories: Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Crisis & Control, (In)Formal Hybrid Security in Lebanon (July 2016)

The report I co-authored with Marie-Noelle Abi-Yaghi and Mariam Younes from Lebanon Support (Beirut) has just been published: http://cskc.daleel-madani.org/resource/crisis-control-informal-hybrid-security-lebanon. If you wish to access the resulting policy brief authored by Lebanon Support’s partner International Alert, click on the following link: http://www.international-alert.org/sites/default/files/Lebanon_LocalSecuritySyrianRefugees_PolicyBrief_EN_2016.pdf.

We have conducted 3-month field research in Aley, Shebaa, and Ebrine in Lebanon.

Here below the executive summary of our research.

This report aims to analyze how formal and informal security providers implement their respective social order agendas through a security “assemblage”. It also aims to inform the debate on refugee protection and security provision in urban settings, in the context of Lebanon’s hybrid security system. The accounts collected illustrate how state security institutions tacitly accept – or even rely on – informal security actors, managing at times to achieve their political and strategic goals through decentralized and/or illegal forms of control. In this vein, local municipalities imposed curfews and street patrols, which, far from being an institutional measure, follow a flexible and unpredictable pattern.1 Three localities have been selected for the purpose of this research – namely Aley in Mount Lebanon, Ebrine in North Lebanon, and Shebaa in South Lebanon. The choice of these localities was driven by their different political and social history, their demographic homogeneity or diversity, and their relationship with surrounding regions. The investigation of the Syrian refugees’ access to security systems constitutes an interpretative lens through which the analysis of securitization processes in Lebanon can be undertaken. The notion of security we will discuss here is polysemantic: it does not only encompass regional or domestic conflicts, but also suggests a particular social form of waiting; a climate of fear portending the worse that is yet to come. As a matter of fact, this climate of fear encourages preemptive security measures and serves as a deterrent against violent outbursts. Therefore, manifestations of insecurity or security threats are often routinized perceptions and, as such, integrated into accounts of ordinary everyday life. Security plays a multifaceted role in the three settings selected for thorough analysis. It builds the cohesiveness of the local communities, while fending off endemic societal fragmentation. This is mainly because local people tend to identify with a single homogenous entity that needs to protect itself against external threats, with these threats being represented nowadays by Syrian refugees, who may become “radicalized” and destabilize the “host” space. And since security goes beyond the exclusion of risk and jeopardy, the official discourse of local security providers entails the protection of refugees. While we draw on the classic normative distinction of security providers into formal and informal, our analysis moves beyond such a rigid differentiation. The formal/ informal dichotomy fades away when security is discussed as a hybrid assemblage of unpredictable and situational forces enforced in particular circumstances. Our findings confirm that formal security is partially implemented through informal local actors, providing a terrain of common interest in the preservation of social order. In addition, security cannot be viewed as a given “social fact”: it is rather a contextual process embedded in multiple power relations that preserve social order in a given space and reinforce social status and community identification.

Categories: Lebanon, Middle East, Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The High Social Price of Humanitarian Dissimulation (by Estella Carpi, February 2013)

http://tabsir.net/?p=2032#more-2032

By Estella Carpi

A few months ago, while conducting my PhD fieldwork in North Lebanon, I shared my ideas on the current humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees with a journalist working in Lebanon. I reported that I was told by some Lebanese from Halba that their neighbors threw stones at humanitarian workers during the food kits’ distribution for Syrian refugees in a little town in ‘Akkar (North Lebanon). Apparently it was just an outburst of tension because of the sudden massive presence of humanitarian organizations in loco. In the past they have always neglected this area in Lebanon due to lack of political interests, since the Israeli occupation and the consequent local impoverishment were primarily vexing the south of the country (1978-2000).

The humanitarian agency that the journalist was working for at that time first decided to omit such information before publishing the article. After that, in order not to be accused of censorship, with a cringe-worthy diplomatic move, they published it by elegantly modifying the content of the stones episode, and contending that local people in North Lebanon would definitely warm up if aid were provided to them too. This is a human dynamic that, unfortunately, I had never got the insight of in the field. The humanitarian agency at issue declared that this “information amendment” was carried out in a bid not to generate further frictions between the Lebanese and the Syrian communities. My “Wikileaks philosophy” pushes me instead to broach out the subject overtly and try to analyze it.

In my viewpoint, to omit the name of this organization is more than legitimate now, as the intention is not ostracizing its members, but rather putting in the foreground thorny social dynamics that need to be unraveled to be dealt with. To name the organization at issue would in fact be like blaming the humanitarian workers themselves, and this, in turn, would be weird, simplistic and even inappropriate.

The reverse of the picture, often shown by international media, though in highly ethnicized terms – that is to say Lebanese against Syrians or the other way around – lies in the fact that North Lebanon’s hospitality of Syrian refugees coming in large numbers to flee destruction, scarcity, repression, chronic fear and instability is not as realistic as boasted by humanitarian practitioners or local people.

This alleged humanitarian phenomenon of generalized hospitality, praised by aid providers to show that they are acting in a responsive and compliant environment with few hurdles, is meant to express the “truly humanitarian essence of Northern Lebanese identity.” Moreover, for the most politicized local aid providers, this attitude is subtly opposed to that of the south of the country, denounced as neglectful towards the Syrians.

Except for mixed families, hosting their relatives escaped from war, such hospitality, most of the time, has its financial returns through payment in cash of the house rent to Lebanese landlords from humanitarian organizations (for example Taiba, Saudi NGO, founded in March 2012 to cope with the crisis in Syria, which has its headquarter in Halba, ‘Akkar).

The tendency of many journalistic reports to overlook or disguise these financial dynamics in ‘Akkar that create a classic landlord-renter relationship seems to express protectiveness for the moral reputation of North Lebanon’s people. In other words, instead of complying with their function of educating the public on what is really going on and providing them with key concepts to interpret facts, some media seem to care more about protecting the critical side of humanitarianism, with the excuse of preserving social “order” (as conceived by them). Uncomfortable information should rather be spread out while pointing out that factual honesty is not aimed to tarnish the international and domestic image of welcoming ‘Akkaris, as it happens in some reports that even portray them as greedy people getting profit from the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

Beyond any emotional comradeship or closeness to one people or the other, the role of the media should be the explanation of the desperate need for economic survival in this Lebanese area, chronically neglected since a long time, given that the French mandate (1920), the post-National Pact State (1943) and the post-Taef Agreement Lebanese State (1990) have always ignored and marginalized this region, as well as South Lebanon. The lingering problems include a nearly 20 hour power cut per day, lack of drinking water, scarcity of public schools and local hospitals.

In a bid not to fuel tension among the parts, hence, the frictions between the local community and Syrian aid beneficiaries are often intentionally overlooked or misrepresented. Rather, the role of the media should be that of highlighting the long State neglect in such northern areas, and that of realizing how late and unfeasible it is by now to intervene in an empirically empty space, ideally void of expectations, paybacks, resentment and mutual mistrust, and, thus, void of social frictions.

In light of these inevitable conditions, the implementation of humanitarian projects should take these aspects into consideration. On the contrary, such criticisms often lead humanitarian workers to think that the whole humanitarian market – although controversially and implicitly imbued with neo-capitalism – is a victim of discouragement and ungratefulness from outside, targeted with cynical attacks and somehow “oppressed” by hands-off talkers.

From their side, therefore, the humanitarian workers tend to reply to critical news and policy analysts, or even mere observing researchers like me, that such counter-humanitarianism is sterilely over-abused since it does not end up being constructive. This is the reason why more public policy anthropologists, policy analysts from outside and cultural psychologists would be urgently required in this field, as they would be the only ones able to explore how the humanitarian conception of failure and success of a given program can grow within an organization and gradually affect social history.

In addition to that, such frictions are not necessarily considerable in confessional or national terms. For instance, it is unluckily a common trend to try to grasp the violence mood between Alawites and Sunnis in the few ‘Akkari villages where the former make up the vast majority; or, yet, to conceive of people as “Syrians-benefiting against Lebanese-being neglected, or Lebanese-benefiting on behalf of the Syrians”. The stress should fall then on being a beneficiary or never having held such a “privileged” position in the past, within a generally neglectful environment, regardless of the confessional beliefs and of the nationality of people inhabiting the area in the capacity of residents or refugees.

Apparently, the media directly connected to humanitarian organizations prefer omitting the kind of information that we, international philanthropists and high/middle class locals altogether, would feel uncomfortable with, given that such unpleasant facts might undermine the nature itself of our “for-the-sake-of-mankind work”.

The intellectual effort of delving into the reasons of historically determined social frictions and of avoiding the simplified ethnicization between Syrian-takers and Lebanese-givers, is dangerously left to the public. Is it that difficult to hypothesize the outcome? By adopting abused descriptive terms, such as “civil war”, “sectarianism”, “terrorism”, “Islamization”, “tribalism” and so forth, we have already created new monsters: human imaginaries of Lebanese against Syrians and Syrians against Lebanese, among whom new conflicts are on the brink of populating and destabilizing the whole region.

In a nutshell, humanitarianism yet feels entitled to diffuse and promote the part of its work that subjectively evaluates as humanitarian. All the rest it engenders – as it occurs in any other enterprise – needs to be disguised in the name of its own survival. In doing so, humanitarianism proliferates by incessantly eradicating the disturbing germs, before the plague that would unload its pockets breaks out.

Categories: Lebanon, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

What ails Humanitarian Aid in Lebanon (by Estella Carpi, March 2013)

http://tabsir.net/?p=2054

The high social price of media and humanitarian dissimulation in North Lebanon.

by Estella Carpi

In the aid provision sphere of North Lebanon, international media in close connection with humanitarian agencies often hasten to show how North Lebanon’s hospitality of Syrian refugees coming in large numbers to flee destruction, scarcity, repression, chronic fear and instability is huge. Such hospitality is actually a product of a quite complex picture with an up-close look, unlike the idyllic scenario humanitarian practitioners and local people usually provide. In addition, social dynamics are normally depicted in the media in ethnicized terms: that is to say Lebanese versus Syrians.

A few months ago, while conducting my fieldwork in Lebanon, I was told that some Lebanese threw stones to humanitarian workers during the food kits’ distribution for Syrian refugees in a town in Akkar, the northern region. The episode had been interpreted by local people themselves as an outburst of tension because of the sudden massive presence of humanitarian organizations in the area, which has always been neglected by state and non-state actors due to lack of political interests. The latter, in fact, were slightly more localized in Beirut and in the south of the country, vexed by Israeli occupation and by a consequent local impoverishment (1978-2000).

The humanitarian agencies operating in that town decided not to let journalists publish about the episode. Others published about it by contending that local people in North Lebanon would definitely stop “hostilities” and warm up if aid were provided to them too. The main reason behind the omission and amendment of this kind of information is apparently the intention not to generate further frictions between the local community and the Syrians.

The humanitarian phenomenon of generalized hospitality serves the interests of aid providers in showing that they are acting in a responsive and compliant environment. Local hospitality in North Lebanon, on the other hand, is also used to express the “truly humanitarian essence” of Northern Lebanese identity – as stated by aid providers politically affiliated to the March 14 coalition, allied with the Syrian opposition.

The politicization of aid is proved by the fact that the humanitarian assistance provided by this coalition is subtly opposed to the “less humanitarian nature” of 8th March political coalition (that counts among its most important members Hezbollah and Michel Aoun’s alliance). This is providing much less to the Syrian refugees – who they often call “displaced” – due to lingering regional political issues. Except for mixed families that host their relatives who escaped from war, such hospitality, most of the time, has its financial returns through the house rent paid in cash by humanitarian organizations to Lebanese landlords (as in the case of Taiba, a Saudi NGO in Halba). Other refugees, when not able to access the housing refurbished and provided by agencies, end up paying to Lebanese landlords a monthly amount of 100 US dollars as a minimum, to rent a piece of land or get an unfurnished tent.

Journalistic reports covering the area intentionally disguise local money circles that create a classic patron-client relationship in Akkar, reflecting the social roots. This is often done in an illusory bid to protect the moral reputation of North Lebanon’s people. Thereby, local morality is strictly connected to their material (in)capacity to host and welcome refugees.

Indeed, the role of the media should be that of pointing out the desperate need for economic survival in Akkar. This was chronically neglected during the French mandate ( since 1920), the post-National Pact State (1943) and the post-Taef Agreement Lebanese State (1990). Nowadays, local residents of the northern areas of the region still deal with a nearly twenty hours power cut per day, lack of drinking water, scarcity of public schools and local hospitals.

As in the described episode, media entrepreneurs seem to care more about protecting the orthodox morality of humanitarianism, with the excuse of preserving social order – as conceived by them – rather than complying with their function of “educating” the public on what is really going on and providing them with key concepts to interpret facts. In other words, media analysts, working closely with the humanitarian organizations, resort to dichotomic descriptions. They care about advertising North Lebanese hospitality to maintain the international image of welcoming Akkaris, and, at the same time, they portray them as greedy beings getting profit from the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

Humanitarian organizations should realize how unfeasible it is by now to intervene in an empirically empty space, ideally void of social frictions, expectations, paybacks, resentment and mutual mistrust. The implementation of humanitarian projects, hence, should take these conditions into consideration.
On the contrary, external criticisms often lead social workers to think that the whole humanitarian mausoleum – implicitly imbued with neo-capitalism – is a victim of discouragement and ungratefulness from outside, targeted with cynical attacks and verbally “oppressed” by hands-off chatterers.

From the practitioners’ perspective, critical news and policy analysts over-abuse a skeptical counter-humanitarianism, considered sterile and destructive. It is the overarching morality of humanitarianism itself that renders criticism nihilistic by itself. That is why further research on how failure and success of a given project can grow within an organization and gradually affect social history, regardless of the good intentions of the working staff, would be needed.

Confessional, national and inter-community relations seem to be the only ones, according to media analyses, to explain social frictions in Akkar. For example, it is unluckily a common trend of international journalists to go and grasp the violence mood in some religiously mixed Akkari villages; or, yet, to conceive of people as “Syrians-benefiting versus Lebanese-being neglected, or, again, Lebanese-benefiting on behalf of the Syrians”. Rather, the stress should fall on being a beneficiary or never having held such a “privileged” position in the past within a generally neglectful environment, regardless of the individual’s confessional beliefs and the nationality of Akkar’s inhabitants, in the capacity of local residents or refugees.
In a nutshell, the media directly connected to humanitarian organizations prefer omitting the kind of information that we international philanthropists and middle class locals altogether would feel uncomfortable with, when such unpleasant facts might undermine the nature itself of our “for-the-sake-of-mankind work”. Thus, the intellectual effort of delving into the historical reasons of such social frictions and avoiding the simplified ethnicization between “Syrian-takers” and “Lebanese-givers” is dangerously left to the public.

By adopting arbitrary descriptive terms in the media, such as “civil war”, “sectarianism”, “terrorism”, “Islamization”, “tribalism” and so forth, and by ethnicizing the explanation of social facts, we have created human imaginaries made of Lebanese against Syrians and vice versa, between whom new conflicts are on the brink of destabilizing the whole region. By a similar token, if bountiful Lebanese host Syrians, they do it in the name of their past common nationhood. If Lebanese deny their help, they want to distance themselves from the Syrian cause. The fragmentariness of individual reasons and disputes go totally unseen.
In light of the parallelism between media and humanitarian actors that I have put forward, humanitarianism yet feels entitled to diffuse and promote the part of its work that subjectively is evaluated as humanitarian. All the “side effects” it engenders – as may occur in any enterprise – need to be disguised in the name of its own survival. In doing so, humanitarianism in Lebanon seems to proliferate by arbitrarily eradicating its disturbing germs, before the plague that would unload its pockets breaks out.

Categories: Lebanon, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“On the Bride’s Side” reviewed (October 2014)

(Picture taken from: http://www.madamasr.com)

A Palestinian poet and an Italian journalist meet five Syrians and Palestinians fleeing the war in Syria at the Milan central station, and decide to help them to reach Sweden by faking a wedding.

It is known that violation of border-regime is a violation of orthodox transnational ethics, and, as such, it is often denigrated by citizens and feared by “aspirant” asylum seekers. In fact, illegal border crossing is widely seen as a criminal act deserving punishment. Based on a capitalist and ethnically discriminatory way of organising people and space, borders regulate human movements, and, as such, they developed an aesthetic of human resentment, fear, psychological deterrence or achievement.

The new film “On the bride’s side”, which has just launched a crowd-funding campaign, seems to me the cinematographic embodiment of unquestionably worthy deeds of human will. Therefore, the movie succeeds in speaking to the public that is neither expert nor necessarily interested in forced migration issues or, in general, the current Middle East’s “plagues”. The Nietzschan manifestation of “the will to power” is what the movie primarily conveys to the public. As a result, any sort of public will get hooked throughout the movie.

The mandatory request for the asylum seekers to provide a “legitimation” of their desires is deliberately denied in its own raison d’être by the decision of this large group of Italians, Palestinians and Syrians. They are all protagonists of a journey, which, to me, also constitutes a meaningful turning point in the bottom-up cultural production on migration and politics. Their journey from Milan to Stockholm starts as a joke, certainly with rational doubts. However, the spectator cannot perceive any emotional hesitation, develops expectations – or even a sort of anxiety – to witness either the final acknowledgment or the failure of human action.

Journalist Gabriele Del Grande, poet Khaled Soliman an-Nassiry and filmmaker Antonio Augugliaro succeed in reminding us that borders are no longer simple edges of a state. Borders are symbolical tyrants, because they manage to shape our perception of the world, as anthropologist Khosravi noticed. And, as Del Grande affirmed in several interviews, “the aesthetics of the border needs to be overturned”.

As a matter of fact, the migrants who cross the Mediterranean Sea and undertake the journey to seek asylum are victims of human laws. Once they crossed, “conflict victims” cannot be their only definition; and not even “victims of fate”, like a large part of the humanitarian assistance sector likes to argue, dealing with an agentless and depersonalised “refugee crisis”.

The movie seems to contend that the only humanitarian act that can be accomplished is taking clear sides. The sides of people who cannot freely choose, against laws allegedly designed to protect the security and the stability of the western fortress, which further feed the gap between imaginary Norths and Souths, and organise human life alongside hierarchical lines.

“On the bride’s side” is a most dignified conveyer of new “border thinking”. A thinking that not merely challenges laws, but rather the North’s consciousness, rushing over to “rescue” people in conflict-ridden sites by providing humanitarian assistance, or intervening in the name of the Responsibility to Protect. Nevertheless, the northern saviours are difficultly willing to open their own borders to embrace the product of the umpteenth political failure, which we love to call “state of emergency”.

In the western proliferation of compassion and sentimentalism around refugehood, which poorly address the European refugee regimes, “On the bride’s side” finally establishes the still missing agency of the refugees: the possibility of asserting one’s own will and develop one’s own rights. Rights that the Law has not forgotten, but has rather suffocated. In the face of this, “the bride” Tasneem Fared states in the movie: as-sama’ lal kol, “the sky is of everyone”.

Finally, I immensely appreciated how “On the bride’s side” greatly shuffles cinema with positivistic activism, where the video camera is the voicing tool that is able to replace the protest’s megaphone.

In a nutshell, the illegal journey from Italy to Sweden is the triumph of a reshaped conception of human rights, according to which the Global North, in order to support and assist the war-stricken Global South, cannot limit itself to provide relief or tell human stories on behalf of unspoken victims to raise compassion. The Northern fence sitters, at some point, connive in the “South’s” predicament.

We have the duty to take a clear stance, speak up and act accordingly. Otherwise, as Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi affirmed, laws will always remain behind us.

Estella Carpi

Categories: Europe, Syria | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Suffering Grass (by Monica Macchi, April 2013)

Imagehttp://formacinema.wordpress.com/2013/04/25/the-suffering-grass-المتألم-العسب/

THE SUFFERING GRASS

In Cinema&TempiRecensioniUncategorized on April 25, 2013 at 8:56 am

Monica Macchi

THE SUFFERING GRASS   

Dice un proverbio africano

“Quando gli elefanti combattono, è l’erba che soffre”;

nel mio film gli elefanti sono

 gli attori statali e le potenze straniere

che tentano di utilizzare il conflitto in Siria

per promuovere i loro interessi geopolitici

e l’erba calpestata sono i diritti umani e i rifugiati.

lara Lee, regista del film

TRAILER https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9CdBjg2OIk

Nel mese di maggio 2012, la regista Iara Lee ha fatto parte di una delegazione che ha visitato i campi profughi siriani di Yayladgi e di Bohsin in Turchia, che alla data del film (giugno 2012) ospitavano 24.000 siriani per un costo stimato di 150 milioni di dollari.

Questo film ha due diverse componenti: una parte è, per usare la definizione di Chion, “verbo-centrista” cioè si configura come “parola-teatro” con una presa diretta di rumori che hanno una propria specifica identità ed un proprio ruolo. Così si alternano spezzoni di “Ugarit News” a interviste con esponenti dell’Esercito Siriano Libero (definito “l’unico rifugio alla brutalità del regime”), con attivisti per i diritti umani che sostengono la tesi del diritto all’autodifesa e con alcuni………

continua SufferingGrass

Categories: Syria | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Media and Humanitarianism in North Lebanon (April 2013)

Image

(Picture taken by Estella Carpi in Wadi Khaled, Lebanese-Syrian border, 13th December 2012)

http://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/estella-carpi/alliance-of-media-and-humanitarianism-in-lebanon

The alliance of media and humanitarianism in Lebanon

ESTELLA CARPI 2 April 2013
 

With the growing Syrian refugee crisis, media entrepreneurs seem to care more about protecting the orthodox morality of humanitarianism, with the excuse of preserving social order – as conceived by them – rather than educating the public.

International media, closely connected to humanitarian agencies, often hasten to show North Lebanon’s ‘outstanding’ hospitality of Syrian refugees, arriving in large numbers to flee destruction, scarcity, repression and chronic fear. However, unlike the idyllic scenario humanitarian practitioners usually provide, such hospitality is actually part of a larger picture. At the same time, the media, while providing positive accounts in an alleged bid to pacify further social frictions, paradoxically rely on ethnicised desciptions – in this specific case, Lebanese versus Syrians.

A few months ago, some Lebanese threw stones at humanitarian workers during the distribution of food kits for Syrian refugees in Akkar, the northern most region of Lebanon and host to the majority of Syrian refugees. The episode was considered an outburst of tension by local people themselves with the sudden massive presence of humanitarian organizations in an area of little political interest, often neglected by state and non-state actors. Non-state actors have always been more localized in Beirut and the south of the country, concentrated on the humanitarian consequences of the Israeli occupation and the subsequent aggravated local impoverishment.

The humanitarian agencies operating in that town decided not to let journalists report on the episode at the time. Some published about it instead by contending that local people in North Lebanon would stop ‘hostilities’ and warm up if aid was provided to them too. The main reason behind the omission of the episode would seem to be the preventing further inflammation of tensions between the local community and Syrian refugees.

The humanitarian phenomenon of hospitality however serves the interests of aid providers in showing that they are acting in a responsive and compliant environment. Local hospitality in north Lebanon is often used in the media to express the ‘truly humanitarian essence’ of Northern Lebanese identity – as stated by aid providers politically affiliated to the March 14 coalition, presently allied with the Syrian opposition. Such a politicization of aid was similarly used by March 8 political coalition (that counts among its most important members the Hezbollah and Michel Aoun alliance), during the 2006 war with Israel.

Except for mixed families that host Syrian relatives who have escaped the war, such hospitality very often relies on financial returns through house rents paid in cash by humanitarian organizations to Lebanese landlords, as in the case of Taiba, a Saudi NGO in Halba. Other refugees, unable to access the housing refurbished and provided by agencies, end up paying, at a minimum, 100 USD to Lebanese landlords just to rent a piece of land or receive a tent.

News reports covering the area intentionally disguise these local money circles that renew classic patron-client relationships in Akkar, reflecting its social roots. This is often done in an illusory attempt to protect the moral reputation of north Lebanon’s people. Media coverage thus ties morality to the local material (in)capacity to host and welcome refugees.

Indeed, the role of the media should be to highlight the desperate fight for economic survival in Akkar, whose people have been chronically neglected in the years since the French mandate (1920), the post-National Pact State (1943) and the post-Taef Agreement State (1990). Nowadays, local residents of the northern region must still deal with a twenty-hour power cut every day, lack of drinking water and scarcity of public schools and local hospitals.

Media entrepreneurs seem to care more about protecting the orthodox morality of humanitarianism, with the excuse of preserving social order – as conceived by them – rather than educating the public. On the one hand, it advertises north Lebanese hospitality to maintain the international image of the welcoming Akkaris, as prompted by humanitarian workers; on the other, whenever it decides to distance itself from the humanitarian mainstream, it portrays Akkar’s people as greedy beings getting profit from the Syrian humanitarian crisis.

Humanitarian organizations should realize by now the infeasibility of intervening in an empirically ‘empty space’, ideally void of social frictions, expectations, paybacks, resentment and mutual mistrust. The implementation of humanitarian projects, hence, should take these conditions into consideration. Further research is needed on how failure and success of humanitarian projects can grow within an organization and gradually affect social history, regardless of the good intentions of the working staff.

National and inter-community relations seem to be the only media narratives to explain the social frictions in Akkar. This obsession for categories is unluckily a common trend of international journalists attempting to grasp violence outbursts in the religiously mixed Akkari villages. As a result, individual reasons and disputes, therefore, go totally unseen.

The media directly connected to humanitarian organizations omits the kind of information that we, international philanthropists and middle class locals working in the humanitarian sector, would feel uncomfortable with. Such unpleasant truths might undermine the nature itself of our ‘for-the-sake-of-mankind’ work. All the ‘side effects’ humanitarian work engenders – as it normally occurs in any enterprise – need to be disguised in the name of its survival.

The intellectual effort to explore the historical reasons for the present social frictions to avoid the oversimplified ethnic lens between ‘Syrian-takers’ and ‘Lebanese-givers’ is dangerously left to the public. By adopting arbitrary descriptive terms in the media, such as civil war, sectarianism, terrorism, Islamisation and so forth, and by ‘ethnicising’ the explanation of social facts, we have already created human imaginaries of Lebanese against Syrians and Syrians against Lebanese.

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The challenges of humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Wadi Khaled

The last two IRIN reports I contributed to, after travelling to Wadi Khaled (Northern Lebanon) in early December 2012. The situation was slightly better than six months before, although many Syrians were sleeping in sheds without any window…and the region is particularly cold in the winter. Medicines for certain diseases were completely absent, according to the complaints of the refugees. 

The first version of the report is the original one, which was significantly different and included a section on Lebanese local authorities allegedly stealing part of the aid for Syrians. This and some other considerations prompted the UNHCR to prevent the first piece from being published, as it was believed it would have harmed aid workers in Lebanon. I believe in transparency and i’m not a UN spokesperson, hence I leave the judgement to you on what’s detrimental for humanitarian aid. 

The second and the third report are the ones published by IRIN.

1. Lebanon’s Wadi Khaled: where Lebanese and Syrians compete to receive humanitarian aid

Syrian_refugees_in_lebanon

10 December 2012- Wadi Khaled (Akkar- Lebanon)

Out of the 133.000 Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon by the UNHCR, 10.862 live in the Wadi Khaled area, a North-Eastern strip of land secluded from the rest of the country by a military checkpoint in Chadra. Access is often a complicated issue to this remote area, where Syrians complained with IRIN about the slowness of sheltering and medical assistance. Some reports from both refugees and NGOs ascribe this also to a lack of transparency in the mediation of local actors, while all humanitarian actors stress the challenges presented by delivering aid in an already impoverished Lebanese context.

Shelters and medicines

In order to address the needs of Syrians, who cannot afford to pay rents, cash has been provided in installations to Lebanese landlords to rehabilitate houses and complete unfinished ones. “The rehabilitation has never been completed, look at that house without windows,” says Mahmud Ghazal, the Lebanese mukhtar of the village of Muqayble, while pointing the finger at a building in front of his residence, “here we have a cold wind penetrating your bones in the winter…How are refugees going to cope with this?” The mukhtar showed IRIN another apartment void of doors, where nylon substituted windows and a family of twelve people from Qusayr (Homs) has been waiting one month and a half without receiving fuel coupons to refill its stoves. “The UNHCR usually sends the first committee to verify the needs, then there’s another one to assess the costs, then a third one…too many committees without any achievement,” complains Mahmud Ghazal. As IRIN visited a school turned into a collective shelter, Syrians were particularly upset, as a result of the numerous fruitless visits they allegedly received from humanitarian workers.

“The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is providing shelter to roughly 800 families1 in Wadi Khaled, but rehabilitations take from four to six weeks,” explains NRC’s program director, Martino Costa, “we’ve been the only organization offering shelter solutions since one month, thus being perceived as THE organization responsible for this, but we do face budget limits.” In consideration of the growing needs, even the UNHCR is currently revising for the fourth time its $84 million fund appeal.

Among the most widespread needs, there is the availability of specialized costless medicines. “He’s one of the two Syrians working out of 100 refugees living in this school,” says Mohammad* from Talkalakh (Homs), after a man in working suit entered the room, “the UNHCR is covering 85% of medical expenses, where do we get the remaining 15% from, if we are unemployed?” While Mohammad sits talking on a carpet, his daughter affected by the Down syndrome wanders with curiosity around the room. “According to Lebanese law, we cannot cover more than 85%, it’s the same percentage covered by the State for the healthcare of Lebanese,” objects UNHCR spokesperson, Dana Suleiman.

“Even Doctors Without Borders told us they lack medicines against thalassemia, asthma and diabetes, therefore people started to collect money to purchase them” says the mukhtar Ghazal. Among the twelve people from Qusayr living in the unfinished house, there is Latifah ‘Akkari*, a lady in her sixties, laying on a mattress in the corridor. “In the six months I’ve been here, I always had to pay on my own for medicines against high blood pressures and rheumatisms,” Latifah told IRIN.  The only drug she claims to have received is a box of Isodol, the Spanish trade name for nimesulide, an anti-inflammatory drug actually used for the symptomatic treatment of arthritis, but useless against blood pressure. In the school converted into a collective shelter, a woman from Talkalakh complained about the daughter being given a medicine not suitable for her age to treat an infection.  “We have doctors, what is needed is a dispensary with all the necessary medicines,” concludes Mahmud Ghazal.

“We do cover chronic primary diseases like diabetes, but not those requiring hospitalization,” explains the UNHCR spokesperson, Dana Suleiman, “Wadi Khaled is a remote area, some of the refugees cannot even commute to an area where medicines are available, but our mobile medical units are a response to this.”

In general, NGO workers reply by belittling some of the complaints of refugees. “In the end refuges complain about everything,” says NRC’s Martino Costa, “for example, we brought them food in the Biqaa valley and they asked TVs and refrigerators!” In late October, when IRIN visited the Biqaa village of ‘Arsal, the Syrian refugees stressed the need to receive support for rent expenses. “They’re lying to receive more money, the Norwegian Refugee Council is actually covering their rents,” Amel Association’s coordinator, Maraay Flity, told IRIN, after having listened to the complaints in a collective shelter. NRC is indeed working in ‘Arsal through its sheltering programs based on rehabilitation.

Access to Wadi Khaled and transparency of local actors

Having said this, the discontinuous access to Wadi Khaled due to security reasons is recognized as an obstacle in speeding up humanitarian aid.  “The army is one of the main obstacles, we haven’t been able to access Wadi Khaled for almost three weeks between September and October,” remembers Martino Costa, “as we work through installments, Lebanese landlords ended up threatening us, for the delays we faced in settling debts with those who paid in advance.” Access was also restricted over the last weeks, as the Syrian army shelled bordering areas on the 27th of November. During IRIN’s visit, mortar shots were clearly audible on the Syrian side and the Lebanese military intelligence cautioned against circulating after the sunset, due to frequent gunfire.

The Norwegian Refugee Council voiced its suspects on the transparency of the Lebanese intermediaries. “The Qataris put lots of money in the hands of local people in Wadi Khaled, maybe their relatives, but not the Syrians,” adds Martino Costa. Some of the refugees proved equally skeptical of the role played by local intermediaries. “Humanitarian aid is delivered to the Lebanese responsible of the protection of a number of families [N/A: the so-called mahsubin],” affirms Hassan Bayut, a 40-year-old Syrian from Bab ‘Amro (Homs), who arrived one year and a half ago, “I’m not blaming Mahmud Ghazal, but many other mukhtars are stealing!” It should be taken in consideration that, in Wadi Khaled, the mukhtars are in charge of communicating the names of those in need of UNHCR mobile registration, as they crossed the border illegally and they cannot travel outside the valley.

Nevertheless, UNHCR rejects the idea of local corruption being a relevant problem. “The system became more efficient, after initial reports of corruption,” says UNHCR’s Dana Suleiman, “we distributed something through mukhtars, as some of them opened their houses to refugees, but now each registered family must pick up personally the kits.”

A poor hosting community

The main obstacle in delivering aid seems to remain the impoverished conditions of the Lebanese hosting community.

“The initial reaction of the Lebanese community was different, they were even picking up Syrians from the border, but 20 months have passed since then,” says Dana Suleiman, “we prefer to sign contracts with local shops and distribute food coupons among the refugees to benefit also the Lebanese community.”

Some locals tried to exploit the situation at their advantage. “Some Lebanese landlords attracted Syrians into their houses to have them rehabilitated by us,” says NRC’s country director Mads Almass, “when they got told that their houses didn’t meet our criteria, we received threats to expose us to the media.”

The unique feature of Wadi Khaled in the Lebanese context is that those Syrians who entered illegally cannot live the valley, due to the military checkpoint in Chadra. Such a restriction on freedom of movement has prevented Syrians from finding jobs outside this impoverished area. “There’s no job here and I cannot leave,” complains Hassan Bayut from Bab ‘Amro, “I came here without any documents and I’m wanted in Syria: if I reach the checkpoint they’ll send me back to my country.”

Rather than creating job opportunities for Syrians and fostering resentment in the poor hosting community, the UNHCR is working to normalize the legal status of people like Hassan. “Legalizing the status of those who crossed the border illegally would serve the purpose of helping Syrians to find a job,” says Dana Suleiman, “we already had a positive response from the Lebanese General Security: Syrians are not required to renew their residency permit at the border anymore and the $200 renewal fee has been officially waived.”

As refugees keep flooding Wadi Khaled, the challenge of the coming months will be to keep the balance between Syrian and Lebanese beneficiaries of humanitarian aid. “There are also untraditional actors, let’s call them like this, who come into Lebanon without any control with either in kind distribution or cash coming from people in the Gulf,” says NRC’s Mads Almass, “their assistance is getting to Syrians rather than Lebanese and this creates differences.”

1 The average is of five persons per family.

*The interviewee didn’t wish to reveal his/her real name.

2. UN: To avoid tensions with refugees, Lebanese hosts need support

28 January 2013 (IRIN) – Donors channelling funds towards Syrian refugees in Lebanon must also assist their poor Lebanese hosts to diffuse rising tensions, aid workers and a government official said ahead of an international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria and its neighbours.“We have seen a growing sense of resentment among the Lebanese host communities that see assistance going to refugees and not to them,” Robert Watkins, humanitarian coordinator in Lebanon, told IRIN. “It is causing some tensions.”Most of the more than 220,000 Syrian refugees who fled to Lebanon have settled in the poorest parts of the country, in districts like Akkar in the north and Ba’albek or Hermel in the eastern Beka’a Valley.The North Governorate is home to 20 percent of Lebanon’s population but 40 percent of its poor, with more than half the people living under US$4 a day, according to a 2005 study.

Despite their poverty, people of the north have been undeniably welcoming to refugees, taking them into their homes for months and covering their food, water and electricity needs, aid workers said.

Nearly two years later, more than 60 percent of the refugees are now renting their own homes. But their presence – in some 550 villages across the country – has depleted government-provided supplies in pharmacies, increased competition for jobs, raised the price of housing, and, in some cases, more than doubled the population of the town or village.

“Changing winds of opinion”

“We are reaching the point of suffocation for Lebanon,” said Hala El Helou, emergency coordinator at the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, which is responsible for helping the refugees.

“There have been many reports by the security forces of an increased number of security incidents that include Syrians,” both as aggressors and as victims, she told IRIN, pointing to killings, beatings and thefts. Reports of forced prostitution, early marriage and child begging have also increased, she said. “It’s a reflection of the social and economic situation.”

One of the early incidents was the October launching of a Molotov cocktail into a municipal building hosting refugee families in a village in Akka’rs Wadi Khaled area. No one was injured.

“It was simply a sign of the changing winds of opinion whereby the period of unrestricted hospitality and generosity was beginning to change,” said one aid worker who preferred anonymity.

In a more recent incident this month, explosives blew off the roof of a house sheltering refugee families near the town of Aidamoun, also in Akkar.

Sahar Atrache, an analyst with the International Crisis Group in Lebanon, said Syrians are now taking an unfair share of the blame for all the ills in society: “Whenever you have a robbery, a rape, it’s because of the Syrians, as if Lebanese don’t do these things.”

“The initial reaction of the Lebanese community was different,” explained Dana Sleiman, spokesperson of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Lebanon. “They were even picking up Syrians from the border. But 20 months have passed since then.” 

Implications for aid

This tension has also had implications for aid workers.

One Western researcher said locals near Qobayat Village in Akkar initially “welcomed” aid workers there with stones, a sign of the indignation at the aid delivered only to Syrians in a region historically neglected by the Lebanese government.

Some locals have also tried to exploit the situation to their advantage.

“Some Lebanese landlords attracted Syrians into their houses to have them [the houses] rehabilitated,” said Mads Almass, country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, which gives landlords funding to make their homes more fit to shelter refugees. “When they got told that their houses didn’t meet our criteria, we received threats to expose us to the media.”

Watkins said the aid community has seen this shift in the feeling of host communities and tried to design programmes accordingly, focusing on improving the overall conditions and services in these areas to benefit both refugees and their hosts. These include programmes that would buy drugs to replenish pharmacies, inject cash into the economy by offering cash-for-work projects for Lebanese people, and provide credit to help small businesses start up.

“But these [kinds of programmes] are, unfortunately, very difficult to find donors attracted to,” Watkins said.

“Conceptually, [donors] understand how important that is,” he continued, “but if they are told they have a limited amount of resources and they will choose between injecting cash into the Lebanese economy to help the Lebanese population or injecting cash into a relief operation which is providing food and shelter to refugees who are bereft of both, they generally opt for the latter.

“But there are tensions, and those tensions will only get worse.”

Donor interest?

An international conference to take place on 30 January in Kuwait aims to garner funding for aid projects inside Syria and in neighbouring countrieshosting nearly 700,000 registered refugees. The appeals amount to more than $1.5 billion, but donors have given less than $50 million since they were launched in December.

UNHCR has implemented so-called quick-impact projects – such as equipping mosque halls, opening a public library, and supporting agricultural co-operatives – after holding sessions with Lebanese communities at which residents expressed their village’s needs as they saw them.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has also done similar projects in Wadi Khaled and in the Beka’a Valley’s Arsal town, both home to many refugees. Country Director Luca Renda said he hopes to expand these kinds of programmes across the country and is in contact with many donors on this issue: “We hope the Kuwait meeting will yield results,” he told IRIN.

The Regional Response Plan, spearheaded by UNHCR, includes projects supporting host communities, as does the Lebanese government’s separate appeal for $180 million, which was launched in December and is currently being revised in line with the constantly growing refugee numbers.

Observers say the government’s capacity to deal with the mounting refugee crisis is limited, given the economic problems the country is facing and its polarized politics. Lebanon is the only neighbouring country in which refugees are not housed in camps, but rather are living in towns and cities with the support of local people.

The Minister of Social Affairs, Wael Aboufaour, recently told the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star that camps may soon be the only solution.

One quarter of population

El Helou said there were 811,000 Syrians in Lebanon – including refugees, migrants and visitors. Added to a Palestinian refugee population of at least 450,000, the foreign “guests” are equivalent to a quarter of the Lebanese population. The UN expects the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, already equivalent to five percent of the population, to increase to at least 300,000 by June.

“Without additional support, Lebanon cannot handle that,” El Helou said. “Lebanon has reached the limit.”

At all levels, observers say, the government has become consumed by the Syrian crisis and its impact on Lebanese soil.

As a result of upheaval in the region, the Lebanese government has downgraded economic growth estimates for 2013 from 4 percent to 1.5 to 2 percent, Sami El-Daher, adviser to the prime minister on economic affairs and development, told IRIN. The crisis has hit Lebanon’s exports through Syria, border trade with Syria and tourism industry.

Aid agencies have already tried to tailor their programmes accordingly. Instead of distributing food, for example, the World Food Programme (WFP) gives refugees vouchers to redeem food at local shops with which it has signed contracts. Instead of creating jobs for Syrians specifically, UNHCR is trying to regularize the status of those refugees who entered illegally to make it easier for them to move around freely and access the common job market. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is rehabilitating schools in which both Syrian and Lebanese students study in an effort to ensure that its emergency work for Syrian refugees feeds into long-term development of the region.

ag/ha/rz

3. Lack of funds hits refugee health care in Lebanon

BEIRUT, 8 February 2013 (IRIN) – The Lebanese government and UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) say they are trying to scale up their assistance to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees but are hampered by a lack of funds.

On 7 February Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released a report, entitled Misery Beyond the War Zone, which painted an alarming picture of the living and health conditions of refugees in Lebanon and called on both the UN and the government to increase registration and aid.

In December, MSF surveyed 2,100 refugees in three areas of Lebanon and found more than half of those interviewed, whether they were officially registered or not, were housed in substandard structures and could not afford medical care, with nearly one-third of them having suspended treatment already under way because it was too expensive.

“Something has to be done. We can’t accept that someone who is fleeing a war has to negotiate with NGOs to get medical assistance,” Fabio Forgione, head of mission for MSF Lebanon, told IRIN.

Aid agencies in Lebanon are facing growing difficulty keeping up with worsening conditions, as the number of refugees increases and the financial situation of those already present degrades.

There are 163,036 Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR in Lebanon, another 74,587 awaiting registration, and a further 50,000 unregistered refugees, according to MSF estimates, though others have given much higher figures.

In November, IRIN visited dusty Muqayble village in the remote Wadi Khaled area of northeastern Lebanon. One of the most widespread needs refugees expressed was medicine. UNHCR covers 85 percent of medical expenses, in line with the Lebanese government’s coverage for its own citizens. But so high is the need, that for some, even this is not enough.

“Where do we get the remaining 15 percent, if we are unemployed?” asked Mohammad*, a refugee from Homs. He lived in a school sheltering 100 refugees. Only two of them had work.

In one of the unfinished homes nearby, Latifah*, in her sixties, lay on a mattress in the corridor. She suffered from high blood pressure and rheumatism, but said she has received nothing but an anti-inflammatory drug in the six months she had been there. Instead, refugees and host communities had been collecting money among themselves to pay for medical expenses.

Problem with the registration system?

According to the MSF report, the most vulnerable refugees are the ones who are not registered with UNHCR. While some NGOs do specifically target unregistered refugees with assistance, 63 percent of the unregistered refugees interviewed by MSF said they had not received any assistance.

“There is a lack in the organization and the delay to be registered is too long,” Forgione said. “In the meantime, the unregistered refugees don’t get sufficient assistance.”

MSF, which will increase its own activities in Lebanon, called on the Lebanese government and UNHCR to scale up their registration system, set up transit sites for new refugees, and help unregistered refugees.

Ninette Kalley, UNHCR representative in Lebanon, acknowledged the delays but said the organization is constantly scaling up. It has increased staffing levels from around 60 at the start of the crisis to more than 250 today.

“We have double shifts in some of our centres. New registration centres will be opened in Beka’a and Tyre this month. We are also working to increase registration capacity in Beirut, where waiting periods are longest,” she told IRIN.

In January, UNHCR registered 38,000 refugees, compared with 24,000 in December.

“We have agreements with several NGOs to help any refugee, even the unregistered ones and we’re expanding these partnerships,” she added.

UNHCR said it is working with the Lebanese government to identify transit sites, focused around Beka’a and the north of Lebanon. This would allow for identification of vulnerable persons in the unregistered population, and rapid assistance in a situation of increased influx.

Urgent need for new funds

Nevertheless, UNHCR and its partners in Lebanon have received less than 15 percent of the funding needed for aid work until June, as part of the Regional Response Plan for Syrian refugees.

“This necessitates the prioritization of activities,” Kalley said. “The first priority is saving lives. From this point, there are competing priorities for shelter, food, health care, cash assistance.”

On 30 January, donors pledged more than $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees and those in need inside Syria, but aid agencies are worried nonetheless.

“We don’t know when the money promised will be sent. The situation cannot wait,” Forgione, of MSF, said.

To face this emergency situation, the Lebanese government announced in December a plan – now updated to seek $370 million – to be able to help refugees.

“Lebanon is now sounding the alarm,” Lebanese President Michel Sleiman told donors in Kuwait.

Last week, Hala El Helou, emergency coordinator at the Lebanese Ministry of Social Affairs, told IRIN the government had only received a few in-kind donations from Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, some financial contributions from the UN to do capacity-building, as well as $700,000 from Norway, and around a $1 million grant to be channelled through the World Bank.

“We’ve had some pledges and we’ve had some promises. Very few have so far provided us with actual funds,” she said.

The government had received no contributions for the health sector of its plan, “which is one of our most crucial at this point…

“We have a huge lack of medication at the centres of the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Public Health. The medication we have is barely enough for the Lebanese,” she said.

According to UNHCR, the number of refugees fleeing Syria to neighbouring countries could top one million by June 2013.

*not a real name

ag/ar/ha/cb

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The dire conditions of Syrian refugees in Wadi Khaled (Lebanon)

Originally published on The Majalla after my first trip to that remote North-Eastern strip of land called Wadi Khaled in Lebanon…

Forgotten Guests of Lebanon

According to the last UNHCR report on June 28th, there are almost 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but only 24,000 are registered as such and receive assistance.
Syrians_ref in Lebanon

According to the last UNHCR report on June 28th, there are almost 30,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, but only 24,000 are registered as such and receive assistance. The Syrian refugees and some Lebanese humanitarian organizations supporting them claim 10,000 of them are concentrated in Wadi Khaled, a narrow North-Eastern valley slipping into the ravaged Syrian province of Homs.

Wadi Khaled is populated by poor peasants, who were severely hit by the Syrian uprising, as they used to rely on trade with Syrian neighboring villages. Power supplies are dramatically limited to two hours per day, thus curtailing also the availability of drinkable water pulled from electric wells. “Locals are even poorer than us!” cries out 58 year old Sabaah, a radiant grandmother from the Syrian village of Talkalakh. She is taking care of her three little nephews and paying $100 rent for a desolate two-room flat. “I recently underwent open-heart surgery and I need to pay $100 for the required medicine,” complains Sabaah, “we used to rely on contacts across the Syrian border to receive it, but the intensified clashes made this impossible.” In Wadi Khaled there are pharmacies and four clinics, but the closest hospital is in Tripoli, a trip which could take up to two hours for dirt roads and military checkpoints.

50 year old Ali Hazzuri is a portly butcher from Talkalakh, who pays $150 to live in a stone cattle shed with his family. Guiding me to another room to drink some tea, Ali wears a sardonic smile as he points at the toilet’s sewage flooding their garden. His wife Najda and his friend Ahmad, a taxi driver from Baba ‘Amro (Homs), lament the unbearable Lebanese cost of living: “Our expenses amount to nearly $300 per month, in this country we pay 2000 LBP ($1.5) for a bread loaf, which cost us 500 LBP ($0.3) before the revolution in Syria!”.

The most desperate case I encountered was that of 40 year old Hassan Hussein Bayut, a black-bearded tattooed man from Baba ‘Amro, who lives in a tumbledown overheated garage with his wife Nuhad and their five children. Despite being unemployed, he has to pay 100.000 LBP ($75) per month for his “accommodation” and hasn’t been able to pay the rent for the last five months. His Lebanese landlord wants to turn the garage into a car wash and threatens to throw his belongings in the streets. “Where do I get the money from? I have to pay $100 in medicines and milk for my sons every week,” explains Hassan in a quiet tone, “and I didn’t receive the UNHCR monthly box of food supplies for four months.”

Hassan’s house in Bab ‘Amro was burned to the ground and he lost trace of his brother in Syria six months ago. Like all other Syrians, Hassan is stuck in Wadi Khaled, considered a “guest (Dayf)” by the pro-Syrian Lebanese Government, rather than a refugee (laji). The Lebanese army is deployed around the valley and Syrians risk being deported to their country if caught at a checkpoint. “The Lebanese troops are monitoring us,” says Mohammad from Talkalakh, “and if the Syrian army breaks in to kill us, they wouldn’t intervene.”

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