This biweekly update covers UNRWA efforts from 10 to 27 April.
UNRWA distributed food parcels to 1,662 civilian families in Yarmouk from 24 (pictured above) to 27 April, following 15 days of suspended access due to conflict. The large crowds of desperate civilians at the distribution area underlined the plight of approximately 18,000 civilians trapped in Yarmouk. Critical humanitarian cases were also allowed to leave the camp for treatment at a hospital. Over the previous month, clashes had repeatedly disrupted efforts to alleviate the humanitarian situation. UNRWA maintains a constant state of readiness to deliver food and other supplies to Yarmouk and is prepared to proceed once authorization and support are given.
UNRWA has completed its first round of cash assistance in Syria, providing 91,437 families (91.4 per cent of the families targeted) with a total of US$ 23,044,186. The distribution began on 1 March and continued until 25 April. For more information on cash distributions, see the in depth look at the end of this report.
Displacement · Out of approximately 540,000 Palestinians registered with UNRWA in Syria, over 50 per cent are estimated to have been displaced in Syria or in neighbouring countries. In Lebanon, 52,848 Palestine refugees from Syria (PRS) have registered with UNRWA (up by 289 since the last report); in Jordan, 13,761 (up by 1,688); and in Gaza, 860 refugees from Syria approached UNRWA. The Agency also receives reports of around 6,000 Palestine refugees in Egypt and smaller numbers in Libya, Turkey and Malaysia.
Funding · To date, US$ 103.9 million has been pledged in response to the UNRWA regional crisis response appeal for US$ 417.4 million (24.9 per cent), including US$ 35.3 million pledged in 2013 for implementation in 2014. Of the total response plan, 74 per cent is budgeted for implementation in Syria, 22 per cent in Lebanon, 3.5 per cent in Jordan and 0.5 per cent for regional coordination.
Members of the UNRWA Area Staff Union (ASU) at Headquarters in Amman donated two days’ salary to help Palestinian civilians trapped in Yarmouk. The contribution totaled US$ 12,008 and has been used to purchase food, now part of the parcels being delivered into Yarmouk as circumstances allow.
Inter-Agency · A final draft of the Comprehensive Regional Strategic Framework (CRSF) was presented to UN agencies, donors and NGOs at meetings in Amman and Washington, DC. UNRWA takes an active role in the development of the CRSF, which is led by OCHA and brings together the frameworks of emergency and development needs for the Syria crisis. Its key goals are to facilitate protection and assistance in Syria, to build a coherent regional view of immediate and longer-term needs and to ensure availability of flexible and adequate funding.
Media · In the media almost daily, food distribution in Yarmouk remained the predominant UNRWA story. Throughout April, media outlet published the iconic UNRWA photograph of crowds gathering for food distribution. Yarmouk was used by media as illustration of the wider problem of humanitarian access to communities engulfed by conflict in Syria. Another highlight was the publication of an UNRWA report on microfinance in Syria (see below), with headlines highlighting the statement that the Syria economy could take 30 years to recover. The Huffington Post published an article on UNRWA advocacy, mentioning how the imagery had encouraged foreign ministers around the world to help fund the emergency in Syria.
Yarmouk · UNRWA distributed food parcels to 1,662 civilian families during the first four days of distribution, following 15 days of suspended access due to conflict. UNRWA hopes that this opening will be sustained and expanded. Over the previous month, clashes have repeatedly disrupted efforts to alleviate the plight of approximately 18,000 civilians trapped in Yarmouk. It is particularly vital that UNRWA be permitted to increase the duration and scale of distributions in Yarmouk on a continuous, daily basis. UNRWA stands ready to distribute in Yarmouk throughout daylight hours, seven days per week.
Access to UNRWA camps · In the area of Damascus: Jaramana and Khan Dannoun are calm and accessible through the main entrances. Qabr Essit is now calm and accessible through an alternative route. Khan Eshieh is reported to be calm, but not accessible to staff outside of the camp; local staff keep a health centre and health point open, and UNRWA provides classes for students in two alternative schools and houses IDPs in an UNRWA school. Sbeineh has largely been abandoned and facilities are closed. In other areas of Syria: Dera’a, Homs and Hama camps are calm and accessible. Shelling is reported in Neirab (close to Aleppo) and it is not accessible to staff outside the camp, though schools are staffed locally and remain open. The unofficial camp in Latakia is calm and fully accessible. The unofficial camp of Ein el Tal (close to Aleppo) remains abandoned, since residents were forced out by armed groups in April 2013, and access remains blocked.
· On 24 April, an UNRWA staff member was detained in Sahnaya. The staff member was released the same evening.
· Last weekend, one UNRWA staff member was wounded in a mortar attack near the parliament building in Damascus. He sustained a broken leg and shrapnel injury, but has since been released from hospital.
· On 12 April, one mortar landed in Al-Alliance Medical School in the Damascus area. UNRWA staff and refugees had to take shelter, as shrapnel passed over the distribution centre and in the offices. The building sustained slight damage but all were evacuated safely and without injuries.
· On 21 April, there was an incident on the road from Hama to Homs involving UNRWA vehicles, where shots were fired.
Education · Around 39,600 Palestinian children are attending 42 regular UNRWA schools. Forty-three government schools are used as alternative locations for UNRWA students and teachers in areas where Palestinians have sought safety. Sixty-eight schools are closed due to damage or insecurity and 16 schools are doubling as temporary shelters for PR and displaced Syrians. Over 1,870 UNRWA teachers are working, as are 44 psychosocial counsellors. UNRWA has developed an interactive self-learning programme that has been adopted by UNICEF and Syrian authorities. The programme ensures that basic skills and subjects of the curriculum are delivered through self-learning worksheets, television lessons broadcast by UNRWA TV (English, maths, Arabic and science) and interactive, online games that focus on literacy and numeracy for early grades.
Engaging Youth · UNRWA aims to organize Engaging Youth activities in all areas of Syria safe enough for regular food distribution. This keeps up the resilience of local communities by equipping students with extracurricular skills crucial to employment. Across Syria, around 3,315 students are signed up for a wide range of short-term vocational courses, including accountancy, human resources and nursing. A further 1,125 students are receiving psychosocial support, first-aid training and other life skills. Four hundred and fourty-four students are receiving career guidance, and 44 businesses, start-up training.
Health · Nine health centres are operational in Damascus, and one each in Homs, Hama, Latakia, Neirab and Aleppo. In addition, eight health points are operational in Damascus, and one in Aleppo. These health centres have been provided with enough medicine and supplies to last until the end of May 2014. UNRWA extended its reimbursement of tertiary care to all hospitals, to ease access to good health care. An increase in psychosocial trauma and anxiety disorders is reported.
Emergency Relief · The first round of cash assistance in 2014 was completed on 25 April, providing 91,437 families with a total of US$ 23,044,186. Families were referred to distribution outlets as follows: 37,000 families in the Damascus area; 5,484 families in the central area; and 4,447 families in the north area. An additional 828 families were marked as special hardship cases. In terms of food assistance, 344,892 food parcels have been distributed since the beginning of the year. UNRWA this year also distributed 190,529 blankets and 117,533 mattresses, along with other vital non-food items.
Infrastructure and WASH · UNRWA engineers in Syria maintain close to 200 installations. Examples of recent activity are the installation of water tanks in Aleppo and the digging of wells in Neirab and Hama. Where possible, UNRWA provides regular sanitation, garbage collection, chlorine tablets and other hygiene equipment to camps and UNRWA facilities.
Microfinance · The UNRWA Department of Microfinance, which opened in Syria in 2003, published a report on the socioeconomic effects of the crisis on its clients in Syria. Even though the vast majority of clients in Syria are not Palestine refugees, the report is a good case study in the effects of the conflict on the general population. The whole report can be found here.
· Forty per cent of businesses funded by UNRWA microfinance have been looted, 31 per cent have been permanently closed and 13 per cent have been closed temporarily. Only 13 per cent of businesses continued to operate. Seventy-one per cent of business owners were displaced; 83 per cent stated they suffered a fall in their monthly income and 16 per cent stated they are now completely without a source of income. Family members of 2 per cent of clients have been killed.
· As a result of the conflict, the Douma and Yarmouk branches were relocated to the Ameen branch in Damascus; the Aleppo branch was looted and then devastated. However, microfinance remains operational, even establishing new branch offices in the safer areas of Tartous, Latakia and Sweyda.
Education · UNRWA schools are accommodating 7,486 PRS children, of whom 85 per cent attend special classes for PRS in order to gradually join the 15 per cent of PRS already integrated in regular UNRWA classes in Lebanon. More than 410 additional staff have been recruited, many of whom PRS themselves, and psychosocial support and recreational activities are offered for PRS students.
Health · Primary and secondary health care and medications are freely available to PRS at the 27 UNRWA health centres located throughout Lebanon. UNRWA also contributes towards tertiary hospitalization for emergency and life-threatening conditions, and covers full emergency-room services at Palestine Red Crescent Society hospitals. UNRWA also provides additional support to cover medical bills for PRS suffering from critical health conditions.
Emergency relief · In Lebanon, UNRWA provides cash assistance by crediting ATM cards issued to beneficiaries since September 2013 and to newcomers on a rolling basis. In March, 14,519 PRS families received an ATM card and were credited for food and housing assistance. Assistance for 2014 is based on US$ 30 per person for food and US$ 100 per family for housing. Unaccompanied and separated minors receive assistance in cash, following an assessment by an UNRWA protection team.
Environmental health · As over 50 per cent of PRS reside in the existing Palestine refugee camps in Lebanon, a strain has been placed on the already fragile environmental-health infrastructure, including water and sewerage infrastructure and management. UNRWA is upgrading the infrastructure systems in the camps in response. Some of this is being done through conditional cash subsidies to beneficiaries to carry out simple maintenance works as part of the Agency’s self-help approach. The Agency has also started an environmental health-promotion programme in the 12 camps.
Protection · UNRWA continues to monitor and offer advice and assistance to PRS crossing at the border and to advocate with the Lebanese government for equal treatment of all refugees at the border. Since August 2013, many refugees from Syria, including PRS, have been denied entry into Lebanon. Legal status in Lebanon is critical, as it ensures PRS can pass through checkpoints, including to and from camps, and complete civil registration processes. UNRWA continues to provide legal advice and assistance to PRS who do not possess a valid Lebanese visa.
Education · Admission to the 173 UNRWA schools across Jordan is open to PRS and Syrian children residing in 10 official and 3 unofficial UNRWA camps in Jordan. For the semester that started in February, 2,121 PRS and Syrian children are enrolled in UNRWA schools, an estimated enrolment rate of 85 per cent of PRS children. The children are integrated in regular and remedial classes and follow the Jordanian curriculum. Fifty-seven more teachers have been hired, extra school furniture has been distributed and psychosocial and recreational activities are organized to support children’s integration into the new schools. UNRWA monitors drop-outs and offers targeted solutions to encourage families to enrol their children.
Health · PRS can receive free primary health care in the 24 UNRWA clinics across Jordan, and hospital referrals for emergency and life-saving care with full coverage, except when the cost is prohibitive. In the first quarter of 2014, PRS made almost 3,500 free consultations in UNRWA clinics. Overall, PRS have good access to health care, with 98 per cent reporting they receive medical care when they need it. However, 14 per cent of households report the overall health status of their household as bad or very bad. PRS have significant psychosocial needs, which UNRWA is responding to through referrals to specialized agencies.
Emergency Relief · Cash distribution for all PRS is ongoing in April, distributing about US$ 350,000 to 1,500 families; this is the last distribution before UNRWA shifts to an ATM-based system. In March, 619 PRS also received arrival grants to help them meet their basic needs for two months. Ninety-nine PRS received emergency cash grants to address an urgent protection or humanitarian need. Fifty-seven per cent of PRS households have one or more employed member, regular or irregular, but 72 per cent are in debt to meet their basic needs. Providing regular relief is critical to prevent families from falling into abject poverty. However, the PRS cash-assistance programme in Jordan is underfunded, and currently not funded beyond April 2014. UNRWA distributed NFI arrival kits to 600 PRS families, including bedding, hygiene kits and kitchen sets.