Syria UN refugee agency urges access for humanitarian aid

“In the current security environment, several convoys have had to be cancelled or delayed. This is depriving many Syrians of vitally needed help,” the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Adrian Edwards, told journalists in Geneva. UNHCR has been working to scale up its operations and is working with governmental and non-governmental parties to see that aid gets through, “however, right now assistance is only reaching a fraction of those in need,” Mr. Edwards noted. The UN estimates that at least 3.6 million people are now internally displaced in Syria as a result of the conflict that began two years ago. As of 20 March, UNHCR and partners have delivered relief items – including bedding, shelter, household items and clothing – to more than 437,000 Syrians in some of the most affected provinces, including Aleppo, Al-Hassakeh, Raqqah, Damascus, Dara’a, Deir Ezzor, Hama and Idlib. Mr. Edwards added the UNHCR’s goal is to deliver relief items to at least one million people by June 2013 and “we hope to reach many more people in the months after that.”The agency has also strengthened existing presences in Aleppo, Al-Hasakeh and Damascus with new facilities in Al Nabak and Homs.In the northern part of the country, the UN, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) have carried out four convoys this year, Mr. Edwards said. The most recent delivery of food aid went from Damascus to Tal Abiyad in Ar Raqqah province. “Seven trucks loaded with 130 tons of aid arrived on 18 March. The trucks were organized by SARC,” he said. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) sent four trucks with 5,000 food baskets. In addition to aid, Mr. Edwards said that UNHCR gave financial support to 6,400 families in Damascus this year. The agency plans to expand its financial assistance programme in Homs in the coming weeks, delayed so far due to insecurity. Yesterday the UN decided to temporarily reduce the presence of international staff in Damascus due to security conditions. Most of the Damascus-based staff of the Office of the Joint Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, are being temporarily relocated to Beirut, Lebanon, and to the Joint Special Representative’s main office in Cairo. The Office’s national staff have been asked to work from home, until further notice.There are approximately 100 international and 800 national staff in Damascus working with the offices of the Joint Special Representative, the Resident Coordinator, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and various UN agencies and programmes. read more