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Saturday 18 August 2012

ShelterBox Response to Syrian crisis on hold
ShelterBox Response to Syrian crisis on hold Photograph taken by Murad Sezer/Reuters, courtesy the Thomson Reuters Foundation – AlertNet. A Syrian refugee boy climbs on a fence railing at the Reyhanli refugee camp in Hatay province on the Turkish-Syrian border March 17, 2012.

ShelterBox’s response to the crisis in Syria has been postponed following a spate of violence and kidnappings in Lebanon’s capital Beirut that began on 16 August.

ShelterBox Response Team (SRT) members Alice Jefferson (UK) and Phil Duloy (UK and USA) had been working with ministers in the Lebanese government to facilitate the importation of ShelterBoxes.

They had also been planning potential distributions to Syrian refugees with several international non-governmental organisations (INGOS), including Handicap International, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR); and a consortium of eight local NGOs operating in the central Bekaa Valley. The Response Team had submitted a proposal to Lebanon's Council of Ministers through an influential contact on Wednesday afternoon.

Later that same afternoon the armed wing of the Muqdad clan made good on its promise to retaliate to the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) kidnapping of their fellow clansman, Hassan Muqdad, some time earlier.

Details are unclear but reports state that around 30 people were seized in the northern parts of the Bekaa Valley and in southern Beirut.

Security issues

‘Members of the Muqdad clan wearing balaclavas and holding automatic weapons were interviewed on live television, saying they were targeting citizens of countries and even local individuals who they deemed supportive of Syria's insurgency,’ said Phil. ‘Their list included the very contact we had just been meeting with, who was due to pass our aid request to the government.

‘The Council of Ministers had just one more session before a break for Eid, a national holiday lasting two and a half weeks, and we knew that security issues were pushing the importation of our aid off the agenda.

One of many Syrian refugee families in the Bekaa Valley, August 2012.

‘Having found no other secure routes for ShelterBox aid in to Lebanon, we reluctantly made the decision to wait for a better chance and focus our efforts on Jordanian routes.’

This wave of kidnappings in Lebanon has raised fears that the fight for control over Syria will exacerbate tensions in a country already polarised by sectarian divisions.

'Families In Need'

Alice and Phil were able to meet with refugee families during their time in Lebanon to discuss their most pressing concerns.

'We have been looking at how we can collaboratively help relieve the pressure on Lebanese families who have been hosting refugees in their overcrowded homes,' said Alice.

One of their contacts, Dr Abdullah El Tassi, was trained at a medical school in New York. He is a member of a coalition of eight locally-administered NGOs, which have been distributing food, water and medical supplies to those affected by the conflict, as well as offering medical treatment for people wounded fighting in Syria.

Through his contacts in the local NGOs, the SRT has been able to carry out need assessments in the central Bekaa Valley around Zahle and has been assessing suitable distribution options to refugee families in need there.

Abdullah introduced the SRT to one family who had spent the past 17 months moving from one place to another due to the fighting.

‘Massive aerial bombing’ 

'The 48-year-old husband, 43-year-old wife and their eight children have moved five times in total as each of their homes has successively been destroyed,’ said Alice. ‘Six months ago their son was shot by a sniper through his wrist; four months ago a missile hit their home taking away all of their belongings; then last week they were finally forced to move as the residential area they were staying in was subject to a massive aerial bombing.’

‘They are now staying in an unfinished building where they are using rubble to block the windows and any curtains they can find to give them privacy from the other families,’ said Phil. ‘Although it is hot now, with winter fast-approaching and the area around Bekaa Valley being prone to heavy snow, it is important to move these people into warm shelters.’

ShelterBox plans on distributing emergency shelter and other lifesaving supplies to families in need through the local NGOs it has been working with, bringing them shelter and dignity. Once security is restored plans will be made for another Response Team to return to continue with the deployment.
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