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IRIN - Lebanon


What you need to know now about cuts to the UN’s agency for Palestine refugees

Wed, 02 Nov 2016 17:55:33 +0000

The UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees says it is facing “the gravest financial crisis” in its history after the United States announced it was holding back planned funding. But the agency is also promising that services for more than five million people in the Middle East aren’t on the chopping block just yet. “We are determined to do everything in our power to keep services running,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told IRIN on Wednesday. “Schools and clinics will remain open,” he said, as the agency geared up to launch a massive fundraising campaign to fill in the gaps left by its largest donor. Here’s a quick guide to what UNRWA is, where its money comes from, and where things might go from here? Who does UNRWA help and where? UNRWA’s full name – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East – is a mouthful. Its name (and all press releases, website, and the like) officially refers to “Palestine refugees,” not “Palestinian refugees”. That’s because UNRWA’s definition of a refugee (meant to help those who left or fled their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict) is tied to place – Palestine refugees are: “persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.” The organisation began work in 1950, and its mandate was later expanded to help those displaced by the 1967 war that resulted in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem (plus the Golan Heights and Sinai, later given back in a peace deal with Egypt.) Those who meet this definition (and their children) and are registered with UNRWA and live in the areas where the agency works – that’s Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem – are eligible for services from the agency, including education, medical care, camp housing in some places, and more. allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="297" id="datawrapper-chart-DGVhe" mozallowfullscreen="mozallowfullscreen" msallowfullscreen="msallowfullscreen" oallowfullscreen="oallowfullscreen" scrolling="no" src="//" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;" webkitallowfullscreen="webkitallowfullscreen">   International funding is only enough to provide the $175 per month to about half those classified as “severely vulnerable” - leaving some 250,000 out of the multipurpose cash programme. Many of the calls to hotlines for refugees are complaints about being left out of the scheme, NGO and UNHCR workers said. "Donors may be fatigued, but refugees are exhausted" Despite healthy funding levels in 2016, a UNHCR official told IRIN that the outlook remained uncertain. Given Lebanon’s restrictive policies towards Syrians getting jobs, donors face a huge open-ended welfare bill: the UN-led appeal for 2016 was $2.4 billion. There is little prospect of refugees “graduating” into self-reliance when their main work opportunities lie in the black market and they cannot move around the country without a residence document they cannot afford, according to aid workers. Donors may be fatigued, but refugees are exhausted. Even if the cash scheme can be expanded, it’s barely enough to stay afloat, and refugees continue to slide into debt. “They are becoming more and more dependent on aid”, said Audi of UNHCR. “There is a sense of frustration. They’re tired… they’re losing hope.” bp/ag   Lebanon leads the way on cash aid for refugees The UN is trialling refugee benefits on a single card in Lebanon UNHCRAppAllowsCheckingRefugeeEntitlementsAnonymously.jpg Ben Parker Feature Solutions and Innovations Aid and Policy Migration BEKAA VALLEY IRIN Middle East and North Africa Lebanon Syria Français العربية [...]

Top Picks: Nauru, Lebanon, Haiti, the Hague and Geneva

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:15:19 +0000

Every week, IRIN's editors offer a selection of the most important and interesting resources that came on their radar. Here's this week's humanitarian reading list. ICC – “a bunch of useless people”? Burundi merely threatened, but South Africa has actually delivered the blow against the ICC. On Thursday it lodged an “instrument of withdrawal” at the UN, formally triggering a process that, one year from now, means it will no longer be a party to the Rome Statute. The move is significant. Whereas few African states have seemed willing to back Burundi (the government’s self-interest was just far too evident), South Africa is different – it’s a big hitter in the African Union. There may be domestic politics behind South Africa’s decision, clothed in a mantle of higher purpose. And it comes at a time of improving relations between the court and African countries. But before we get ahead of ourselves in condemning of Pretoria, it’s worth re-reading Oumar Ba’s take on the politics of the ICC, and ponder once more how the court’s reputation can be rescued. Is Australia torturing refugees? If you need more evidence that Australia’s offshore refugee system is, um, problematic, read this new report from Amnesty International. The rights group says conditions in the Australian-run detention centre on the Pacific island nation of Nauru “fit the definition of torture under international law.” Amnesty accuses the government of holding more than 1,000 people “behind a fortress of secrecy” where they face a torrent of harassment and violence. Australia’s Immigration Department quickly released a response accusing Amnesty of using “unsubstantiated claims made by individuals or advocacy groups as fact in the absence of evidence.” However, Amnesty’s researcher is one of the few people that’s been able to visit Nauru to verify such claims. Nauru has refused to grant media visas to organizations willing to pay the exorbitant price of $8,000, which suits Australia just fine. If Australia really believes Amnesty is lying about conditions in Nauru, maybe it should arrange for some journalists to visit and see for themselves. Reaching refugee survivors Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon don’t live in camps, so reaching them can be tough. Even more so for Syrian women and girls in the somewhat isolated border community of Wadi Khaled, the focus of this study from the International Center for Research on Women. The research zooms in on an International Rescue Committee project that aimed to support survivors of gender-based violence, a problem surrounded by stigma. Staff provided psychosocial support and referrals, but they started slow with coffee, tea and conversation. The study examines what worked and what didn’t – it was a challenge to find spaces where women and girls felt safe and get local communities on board, and sometimes they ended up in tents. And there are limits to referrals for those who will have difficulty accessing them. But the participants interviewed overwhelmingly gave the experience a thumbs up, and there’s clearly something to be said for bringing help straight to those who need it in a sensitive, smart manner.    Migration managers Migration is high on the agenda again as European leaders met in Brussels today and yesterday. Satisfied that a controversial agreement reached with Turkey and the border closures in the Balkans have brought boat crossings to Greece down to manageable levels, the EU has turned its attention to achieving similar results on the Central Mediterranean migration route. Agreements similar to the one with Turkey - using aid as leverage to secure countries’ compliance in controlling migration - are in the works with at least five major countries of origin and transit in Africa, including Ethiopia, Nigeria and Mali. But a recent analysis by strategic forecasting company, Stratfor, warns that such deals will only be effective if the North African countries have sufficient incentives and capacity [...]

Syrians make easy scapegoats in Lebanon

Thu, 28 Jul 2016 19:21:18 +0000

The Baalbek International Festival is in town. Under silvery bunting, telltale tourists drift around in shorts in the sleepy mid-afternoon heat. But it’s less of a lark for more than 130,000 Syrian refugees who live in the wider governorate of Baalbek-Hermel, in eastern Lebanon. Days before the first note was sung, the governor, Bashir Khodr, was reported to have tightened the existing curfew for Syrians, requiring them to stay inside between 6pm and 6am. He later denied the change, but in a sense it didn’t really matter – they would just face the usual 8pm to 6am restrictions instead. On opening night, 19-year-old Abdu, originally from Homs in Syria, decided to ignore the curfew and go down to Baalbek’s ancient ruins, where he found crowds and people eating ice cream. But he also found a man with endless questions: Was he Syrian? Why was he there? Didn't he know about the curfew? "It makes you feel like you’re… not welcome here,” Abdu told IRIN, referring to both his encounter and the curfew. “But I don’t see why I should be imprisoned in my house.” Why such antipathy? One month ago, on 27 June, multiple suicide attacks hit al-Qaa, a predominantly Christian village some 30 kilometres north of Baalbek. Five civilians were killed and several more injured. The authorities have made no connection between the attack and the more than one million registered Syrians in Lebanon, but that didn’t stop the finger of suspicion falling on them anyway. Lebanon’s army, intelligence agencies and security forces have detained several hundred Syrians. Refugees residing in mountainous, rural communities have experienced scattered reprisal attacks by civilians and even local police. Towns and villages up and down the country have meanwhile doubled down on existing curfews, imposing new restrictions on refugees’ freedom to move and ability to work. The reprisals It was only 24 hours after the al-Qaa incident when the first reprisal attack happened. High up in the mountains above Beirut sits Hrajel. The predominantly Maronite Christian village is one of the last settlements along the mountain road before it climbs up into the dusty brown peaks and drops down into the Bekaa Valley, home to around one third of the country’s registered Syrian refugees. Ahmad, a Syrian-Kurd originally from north Aleppo’s Sheikh Maqsoud neighbourhood, was one of six Syrians badly beaten in the village that night. He lives in a shabby block of flats with other refugee families, separated from the rest of the village by a bumpy dirt road. “It was about 10.30pm. The electricity was cut (a regular occurrence in Lebanon) and some of the families were sleeping in the building,” he recalled. “Three or four cars came outside, and we heard shouting. They were using really bad words, and ordering the men to come down.” Ahmad said he and the others went downstairs, while their families looked on from the balconies above. “They made us kneel like this (he put his hands behind his back) and started beating each of us, in groups of three or four, with wrenches and knives.” Fathi, from Jisr al-Shughour in northern Syria, was also hurt that night. “We were humiliated in front of our wives and children, and the feelings of fear that we experienced back in Syria started to come back,” he told IRIN. Hrajel’s mayor, Tony Zugheib, said there had been “fighting” on the evening in question between locals and Syrians but that it was born of one refugee’s earlier refusal to produce identification. No arrests were made, but Zugheib said the perpetrators were given a warning. Ahmad believes the attack took place with the full knowledge of the authorities, but Zugheib insisted that his municipality treats Syrians “with the utmost humanity”. "We feel that our only duty is to keep the village secure and safe,” Zugheib said. "[But] of course we respect humanity and individual freedoms.” In the days that followed, Lebanon’s security services moved in on Syrian refugees a[...]

Eye spy: biometric aid system trials in Jordan

Wed, 18 May 2016 06:17:18 +0000

There is only one supermarket at Jordan’s Azraq refugee camp. It’s a cavernous space, packed with crowds and stacked with tins and boxes. Sabha, a mother of six who came here from Aleppo four months ago, browses the tinned pulses, eggs, rice and fresh vegetables that line the shelves and sits on her stacked rations for the month as she queues to buy them. When she pays, however, Sabha doesn’t take out her purse. She simply looks into a small black machine, and buys her groceries using only her eyes. Sabha is using a new iris scanning system that’s just been rolled out in Azraq, a camp that houses some 30,000 Syrian refugees in the Jordanian desert. The machine takes a detailed reading of her eye, matches it against hundreds of thousands of records, and deducts her grocery bill from her monthly World Food Programme allowance. This is relatively groundbreaking technology, and it’s now the standard means of distributing food aid in Azraq. “It’s a first not just for refugees, but for the whole shopping and retail industry,” Shada Moghraby, WFP’s spokeswoman in Jordan, told IRIN. Soon the scanners will be in Zaatari, Jordan’s largest camp for Syrians, and it’s hoped they’ll appear in urban supermarkets too, as the 85 percent of Syrian refugees who live in Jordan’s cities already use iris scanners to withdraw monetary assistance from cashpoints. But not all refugees are convinced of the technology’s value – Sabha says it actually makes her shopping more of a slog – and privacy advocates are concerned too. “The fact is that it is so powerful,” says Eric Töpfer of the German Institute for Human Rights. “If [the data] doesn’t stop [at aid use] and it’s shared more liberally and used with less control or without controls… then it can do harm.” New technology, new problems Sabha’s shopping is made possible by a biometric data network that’s now a normal part of life for the more than 600,000 Syrian refugees registered in Jordan. Iris scans, taken when refugees register in the country, are stored in a database kept by the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, and used to verify individuals as they seek assistance from UNHCR and, more recently, other UN agencies like WFP. The system has significant benefits over the cards it’s replacing. Cutting down on paperwork by connecting recipients direct to the allowances they receive, it’s a more secure method of delivery that ensures allowances are only used by the people they’re intended for. Moghraby says that feedback from refugees in Azraq camp has generally been positive, with particular advantages for the elderly. “It eliminates hassle and waiting time and can’t… get lost in the way cards can,” she says. At the supermarket, however, the refugees themselves don’t seem convinced at all. Sabha says that the eye-scanning system has made her life more, not less difficult. “I’m pregnant, and I’m frightened for my unborn child,” she explains, gesturing at the chaos of the supermarket. Because she’s named as the head of household responsible for the money only she can access the monthly WFP allowance with her eyes. “I’d rather my son go and get the food for me, but he can’t because of the iris scanner. My sister is in the same situation. She has six kids. They’re young, but she has to take them to the supermarket when she goes to pick up food.” Ivor Prickett/UNHCR Azraq has only one supermarket Her grievance becomes a common theme among the other shoppers: many say they prefer the older cards, which allowed them more freedom to cooperate with friends and ask family members to run errands on their behalf. The fact that Azraq’s single supermarket takes significant time and effort to get to only makes the situation tougher. Responding to the criticisms, Moghraby says that people experiencing problems with the eye scanning system can request no[...]

What’s it like to be a young Palestinian refugee in Lebanon today?

Thu, 17 Mar 2016 14:05:57 +0000

Of all the countries Palestinians settled in when they fled or were forced from what is now Israel nearly 70 years ago, Lebanon remains the most hostile to providing basic rights to the decades-old community and its thousands of descendants. As a result, they are systematically marginalised and disenfranchised. An influx of Syrian refugees and growing tensions between armed groups in some of the country's 12 official camps has made life increasingly difficult for Palestinians in Lebanon. Three-quarters of camp inhabitants live below the poverty line, scraping by on less than $6 a day - and that was before the Syrian crisis. So what does all this mean for young people growing up in this environment? How does it feel to be a 20-year-old young man from Nahr al-Bared looking for a job? What's it like to be a 19-year-old woman in Ain al-Hilweh who hears gun battles every day? How does a 25-year-old from Bourj al-Barajneh cope with the impossibility of the working restrictions? To find out, come and spend a week with Mohammad, Sara and Ali. Immerse yourself in their world though WhatsApp chats, videos, photos and handwritten notes. Click here to see for yourself what life is really like for young Palestinian refugees in Lebanon today.     Spend a week with Sara, Ali and Mohammad What’s it like to be a young Palestinian refugee in Lebanon today? Bourj al Barajneh.jpeg Venetia Rainey Special Report Aid and Policy Migration Conflict Health BEIRUT IRIN Middle East and North Africa Lebanon العربية [...]

No way out: How Syrians are struggling to find an exit

Thu, 10 Mar 2016 14:14:55 +0000

Over the last five years, close to 4.8 million Syrians have fled the conflict in their country by crossing into Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. But as the war drags on, neighbours are sealing their borders. Forced from their homes by airstrikes and fighting on multiple fronts, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers now have no legal escape route. Earlier this week, EU leaders reached a hard-won deal with Turkey aimed at ending a migration crisis that has been building since last year, and that in recent weeks has seen tens of thousands of migrants and refugees stranded in Greece. But the agreement turns a blind eye to the fact that even larger numbers of asylum seekers are stranded back in Syria, unable to reach safety. Syrians hoping to apply for asylum in Europe first have to physically get there. EU member states closed their embassies in Syria at the start of the conflict, and even embassies and consulates in neighbouring countries have been reluctant to process visa and asylum applications. When Syria’s war erupted in March 2011, it was initially relatively easy for most refugees to leave the country. Those without the means to fly poured out in waves of tens of thousands across land borders into Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. But one by one, these exits have been restricted or closed off entirely. Jordan closed its borders to the vast majority of Syrians in September 2014, but many are still arriving there. The numbers stranded at crossing points near Rukban and Hadalat have been growing steadily since January and have now reached more than 37,000. Edgar Mwakaba/IRIN Lebanon was a popular way station. It had always been easy to cross the Lebanese border, and from there Syrian refugees with the money could either fly or seek passage by boat to Turkey – seen as the best gateway for illegal migration to Europe due to its proximity to Greece and the fact you didn’t need a visa to get there. But Lebanon ended its open-door policy for Syrians in January 2015 when it introduced new regulations requiring them to apply for difficult-to-obtain visas or a Lebanese sponsor before being admitted. And then in January 2016, the Turkish government began to require visas for Syrians arriving by land or sea, effectively cutting off Lebanon as a route to Europe. Other options are bleak. The heavily militarised and UN-patrolled border with Israel leads to the contested Golan Heights. Asylum seekers cannot cross. Iraq, particularly the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, saw an influx of Syrian refugees in 2013. The borders are now mostly closed to asylum seekers. Egypt, the other main aerial route out, closed its doors to Syrians without visas in July 2013. As “No Entry” signs were erected elsewhere, the perilous overland option through Syria’s northern border to Turkey became increasingly popular. North Aleppo Province: Syrians try to cross the Turkish border illegally width="640" height="360" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen=""> Lindsey Snell/IRIN Syrians at an illegal crossing point in northern Aleppo Province talk about their attempts to cross into Turkey But Turkey, long the most generous host country in terms of the sheer numbers of Syrians it has taken in, closed its last two official border crossing points to almost all asylum seekers in March 2015. And in recent months, it has implemented further border controls aimed at not just cracking down on smugglers of goods and people, but also at preventing Kurdish fighters and militants from so-called Islamic State crossing its border with Syria. Now, the only remaining paths out – for those who can afford it – involve difficult and dangerous illegal[...]