UNHCR Briefing Notes – Geneva, 19.11.2013

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva.

 1 – Typhoon Haiyan: Displacement grows as survivors move for aid; delivery gains pace

In the Philippines, thousands of typhoon survivors from Tacloban and other affected areas are believed to have left their home areas in search of family and assistance in surrounding areas or as faraway as Cebu and Manila.

Shortly after the typhoon hit on November 8, people started leaving by sea and air. Cargo flights delivering aid from Cebu to Tacloban, Guiuan and other places have been returning with plane loads of displaced people every day.

The full number is still unclear. According to the Philippines government as many as 4 million people could now be internally displaced. Starting tomorrow UNHCR and its partners in the protection cluster will set up a designated area at the airport in Tacloban to collect information on these displaced people, their destinations and vulnerabilities, and to try and ensure assistance on arrival and to prevent trafficking incidents. This protection monitoring system is expected to expand to other areas that displaced people are leaving from. Yesterday [Monday] UNHCR field protection teams arrived in Ormoc in western Leyte and Guiuan in Eastern Samar where Typhoon Haiyan first made landfall.

The teams are equipped with trucks and fuel supplies to support two newly-established humanitarian hubs. Their work will initially focus on establishing protection coordination mechanisms and assessing the needs in and around Ormoc and Guiuan. The aim is to facilitate the prompt delivery of aid, and to ensure that people with specific needs are receiving help, especially in remote locations.

In Ormoc, the local authorities told our staff that most of the 109 affected administrative areas, or barangays, have received some form of assistance. Food, medicines and shelter materials such as plastic rolls are still urgently needed. A few areas have yet to receive non-food supplies such as plastic sheets and blankets.  In Ormoc our team is today visiting areas outside the city to assess the situation and needs in rural areas.

Communications with our staff in Guiuan remain difficult because of the damage to infrastructure. Survivors report that entire villages along the coast were wiped out by the typhoon and storm surge.

In Tacloban, our team has been distributing plastic sheets and blankets in Barangay 88, one of the hardest-hit areas of the city. We have also sent family-sized tents to Tanauan south of Tacloban to help the authorities set up a temporary tented site for displaced people, where our relief supplies arrived last week. Some 15,000 people in both areas have been assisted so far.  UNHCR aid continues to arrive in the country through on-going airlifts.

Two further aid flights are expected today. In total, nine flights will bring 10,000 tents, 112,000 blankets, 66,000 plastic sheets, 9,000 solar lanterns and other relief supplies – for a total of more than 100,000 people. On arrival in Cebu, these items are quickly moved to the affected areas through a combination of air, sea and land transport. At the request of UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, UNHCR has increased its volume of aid and raised its appeal to US$15 million.

In addition to providing relief items, UNHCR is also co-leading the protection cluster with the government to ensure that protection concerns remain a key consideration in interventions by all other clusters, and that people with specific needs have access to assistance and services.

 2 – Thousands flee fighting in Syria to neighbouring Lebanon

In Syria, an estimated 6,000 people have fled their homes in Qarah, making their way over the border into eastern Lebanon. Humanitarian partners have been on the ground in Lebanon since last Friday working with the Ministry of Social Affairs and local authorities to cope with this influx.

The spark for the displacement is the reported escalation in violence in Qarah and surrounding villages. Refugees have told us that they spent days living in underground shelters before deciding to flee. A family of ten told us they had crammed into a single car on Saturday evening to flee as the situation had become “unbearable”.  Most of the newly arrived refugees are now in Arsal, in north-east Lebanon. Arsal, which lies not far from the border area, is home to a population of some 60,000 people, including – already prior to the latest influx – 20,000 registered refugees.

Some 100 families transited through Arsal to nearby villages including Jdeide, Fakeha and Al-Ain, while local authorities told us that approximately 300 families returned to Yabrud in Syria on Sunday.

UNHCR and its partners have contingency plans in place for these sudden movements – and indeed for larger numbers should more cross. There are concerns that on-going violence in the vicinity of Qarah and central Qalamoun towns could force more to flee Syria into the already stretched east-Bekaa area.  Over 1,000 of the newly arrived Syrian families in Arsal have registered with the local municipality in the past three days and been provided with emergency assistance. This work is still on-going. The assistance includes food parcels, blankets, mattresses, kitchen sets and hygiene kits.

Sheltering the large numbers of new arrivals remains a challenge. Newly arrived refugees have been directed to four temporary collective shelters in public halls and mosques. Up to 80 families have found shelter in informal settlements while others have set up makeshift dwellings in unfinished buildings or are staying with local families.  None of these provide a long term option.

UNHCR with its partners is ready to provide further shelter options if the government approves land for use. In the meantime all is being done to ensure that the temporary locations are protected against the elements and provide some warmth to the refugees.

Access to clean water and sanitation is a concern. Partners are providing latrines and water tanks to alleviate this situation and have deployed mobile medical units which are providing immediate health services. The Ministry of Public Health and partners have provided vaccinations and Vitamin A supplements. Pregnant women and war-wounded refugees are also receiving immediate assistance.


Gisèle Nyembwe

Public Information Associate

Collaboratrice adjointe chargée de l’information UNHCR Canada

Tel: (613) 232-0909 ext. 225

Mobile: (613) 986-4300

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