U.N: 2,200 Syrian families poured into Arsal the past 5 days
Syrians who fled recent violence in the mountainous Qalamoun region, waiting to be registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on November 19, 2013 in Arsal. [Getty Images]
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Sheltering the large number of new arrivals remains the chief challenge facing humanitarian organizations. With cooperation from the Social Affairs Ministry, the UNHCR and its partners were erecting temporary transit sites for those unable to secure accommodation.
“We are setting up 21 tents to accommodate the most vulnerable families right now,” UNHCR’s public information assistant Lisa Abou Khaled told The Daily Star, speaking from Arsal.
Especially vulnerable refugee families were identified by the agency as those living in substandard quarters exposed to outdoor elements.
“There will be 50 tents in total,” Khaled said.
The agency and local authorities are concerned that refugee numbers could further increase.
Khaled said that local authorities relayed to her that an additional 100 families had entered Arsal following reports that two car bombs struck regime targets in the Qalamoun town of Nabek, near the Lebanese border.
Most of the refugees who arrived earlier in the week found housing with host families and friends, Khaled said, as well as spaces in existing informal settlements. Ad-hoc collective shelters are also brimming with newcomers, including two event halls and two mosques.
Khaled said UNHCR’s partner agencies were also rehabilitating existing shelters and homes.
The agency is providing refugees with emergency assistance, including food parcels, blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets, and dignity kits. Children were also being vaccinated for polio by the Health Ministry and its partners.
Khaled said access to clean drinking water and sanitation continues to be a challenge and that partner organizations are in the midst of installing latrines and water tanks to assuage added pressures.
and its partners have been receiving new arrivals in Arsal since last Friday, with cooperation from Lebanon’s Social Affairs Ministry and local authorities to cope with the high numbers.
The spike is attributed to a major assault launched by Syrian regime forces in Qalamoun, a strategic mountainous area linking Damascus to Homs, adjacent to the Lebanese border. Refugees told the that they had spent days living in underground shelters before deciding to flee.
Most of the newly arrived refugees are concentrated in Arsal, where a population of 60,000 reside, including about 20,000 Syrian refugees. According to the U.N., about 100 families made their way to villages near Arsal, such as Jdeide, Fekeha and al-Ain, with about 300 families returning to Yabrud in Syria on Sunday.