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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Uncertain journey for Lebanese refugees returning from Syria

© UNICEF Syria/2006
A UNICEF worker explains the dangers of unexploded munitions to a young Lebanese refugee at a Syria-Lebanon border checkpoint.

By Sabine Dolan

NEW YORK, USA, 18 August 2006 – Thousands of Lebanese refugees who fled to Syria during the month-long conflict between Hezbollah and Israel have been crossing the border again. More than 100,000 have made the journey back to Lebanon since the ceasefire took effect on Monday.

In private cars, on buses and on foot, the spontaneous return is taking place amid refugees’ mixed relief and concern about what awaits them.

“I’m returning to my country,” says Mohammad Aifour, a young boy from Bekaa, as he waits with his family at the Syria-Lebanon border checkpoint of Jdaidet Yabouz. “I will see my village and find out if any of my friends and neighbours were killed, as well as other loved ones, and whether anything happened to my school.”

Adds Samer Sherbaji, another young returning refugee at the checkpoint: “I missed my house a lot, my friends, my school, everything. Now I am coming back to Beirut, to my house, and I’ll find out whether my things are fine. I‘ll see my friends and make sure they are safe and start school again to learn and pursue my life.”

© UNICEF Syria/2006
UNICEF has printed and distributed thousands of leaflets about the dangers of unexploded bombs to help raise awareness among returning Lebanese refugees.

Awareness of bomb dangers

Returning refugees don’t know whether their homes and villages will still be standing, but one thing is certain – they face a serious threat from unexploded bombs in their home communities. While the Lebanese Army and the Mines Advisory Group have begun clearing operations, Lebanon’s National De-mining Office reports that 3 people have been killed (including 2 adolescents) and 10 injured by unexploded ordnance since 14 August.

That’s why UNICEF and its partners have been distributing awareness leaflets at border crossings, advising families of this grave danger.

“What we have done to try and prevent further injury and death is raise awareness by distributing leaflets that explain the danger, that tell people not to touch – that give a number of the National De-mining Office, who will come and deal with the object," says UNICEF Child Protection Advisor Trish Hiddleston.

At the border points, returning refugees are also receiving packages containing water, biscuits, wet towels, rehydration salts and other much needed emergency supplies – all in the hope of easing the way for an already difficult and uncertain homecoming.




18 August 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Sabine Dolan reports on the difficult journey home for Lebanese refugees returning from Syria.
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