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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Lebanese families fleeing conflict seek refuge at a camp in Syria

© UNICEF Syria/2006/Al Azmeh
A refugee boy at the Pioneers Zabadani Camp near Damascus, Syria

By Yazan Neme

DAMASCUS, Syria, 7 August 2006 – The Zabadani Pioneer Camp near Damascus is one of Syria’s biggest hosting sites for refugees who have fled ongoing hostilities in Lebanon. The former children’s camp has cancelled its summer programme in order to accommodate 1,700 refugees.

Since the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah began on 12 July, nearly 200,000 Lebanese refugees – most of them women and children – have crossed the border into Syria. Many have fled their homes under fire, trying to save their lives, and have arrived in Syria with little more than the clothes on their backs.

UNICEF and its partners are working to assist these refugees with shelter and other basic services, including health care, water, sanitation, education and child protection.

© UNICEF Syria/2006/Al Azmeh
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 70 per cent of the refugees coming from Lebanon into Syria are women and children.

A safe haven from conflict

Stories of destruction are common in the Zabadani Pioneer Camp. Three-year-old Ali and his family survived after a bomb struck their house but failed to explode. As they ran out of the house, another bomb hit; this time, Ali was injured. He still wakes up in the middle of the night in panic.

Opposite the room where Ali and his family live at the camp, three tiny triplets are asleep. Their parents fled southern Lebanon for Syria to find a safe haven for the two-month old babies.

“We came because of the bombings,” says another young refugee, nine-year-old Sali. “We were scared. My sister could no longer stand on her feet.”

Sali is happy here but wants to go back. She doesn’t know that her family’s house and her father’s shop have been flattened, and there is nothing left to go back to.

“My brothers and I have been working for more than 30 years to build our houses and shops, and in ten minutes everything was gone,” says Sali’s father.

© UNICEF Syria/2006/Al Azmeh
UNICEF and its partners in Syria have been helping refugees from Lebanon with shelter and other basic services, including health care, water, sanitation, education and child protection.

Vaccines and psychosocial support

With a continuous influx of new families, camp officials are worried that the maximum capacity has already been reached. Meanwhile, doctors are concerned by the camp’s increasing number of diarrhoea cases.

“We have to make sure that mothers continue to breastfeed [to] preserve the well-being of children,” says UNICEF Programme Coordinator Dr. Marc Lucet. “We have to make sure that children are immunized so that they can resist the conditions they live in today.”

Working with the Ministry of Health, UNICEF has launched a measles immunization drive in the camp for children under the age of 15, as well as a ‘catch up’ campaign to complete the vaccinations of children under 5 and prevent any childhood-disease outbreaks among the refugees.

Attending to the psychological needs of refugee children is also critical. To help deal with the distress of children who have witnessed the deaths of loved ones and the destruction of their homes and communities, UNICEF is training volunteers from the Syrian Red Crescent in psychosocial support techniques.

“These are children who went through very difficult experiences,” notes Dr. Lucet.

Sabine Dolan contributed to this story from New York.




7 August 2006:
UNICEF’s Yazan Neme reports on the situation of Lebanese refugees sheltered in Syrian camps.
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