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GENEVA, December 10 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme will start airlifting aid from Iraq to north-eastern Syria this week, a timely move that will bring much-needed relief supplies for vulnerable people in an inaccessible area as the harsh winter sets in.
Starting Thursday, up to 12 cargo flights are expected to airlift food and relief supplies such as blankets, plastic sheets and sleeping mats from Erbil in northern Iraq to Hassakeh in Syria's north-east, with the permission of both governments.
"The number of vulnerable people in Hassakeh is estimated at 50,000 to 60,000 but we are still doing assessments. Hassakeh has been out of reach for a long time," Amin Awad, Director of UNHCR's Middle East and North Africa bureau, told journalists in Geneva on Tuesday.
The announcement comes as UNHCR said it has assisted more than 3 million displaced and vulnerable people in Syria so far this year. Working with selected local NGO partners and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), UNHCR has procured, stored, transported and delivered over 7.7 million separate relief items so far this year. The agency's assistance has reached all of Syria's 14 governorates. Every week, about additional 250 trucks are being dispatched with relief supplies including blankets, mattresses, sleeping mats, diapers, sanitary napkins, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, kitchen sets and hygiene kits.
"Recent deliveries have focused on helping civilian populations in Aleppo and Rural Damascus, the two governorates hosting the majority of internally displaced people," said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards at the Tuesday briefing. "Aid has also gone to Idlib, one of the most difficult areas to reach, and Hama, where security prevented UNHCR from delivering any assistance between May and the end of November."
UNHCR has participated in more than 40 inter-agency cross-line missions into conflict zones, and that over 35 per cent of the agency's assistance has been to displaced persons in hard-to-reach or "hot spot" areas.
"Despite the scale of these efforts over the past months, the needs remain immense, and insecurity routinely prevents access to many areas," said Edwards, noting that the amount of aid delivered is still "nowhere near enough".
The ongoing civil war has displaced an estimated 6.5 million people within Syria. Many more are in need of help. In addition, some 2.3 million Syrians have been forced to flee to countries in the region.
The UN refugee agency has 370 staff in Syria and is present in most governorates. Its work in Syria is not limited to providing relief supplies. The agency has been providing additional assistance including healthcare for 971,000 people, legal protection and community services for 155,000 people, shelter rehabilitation for 70 homes and financial assistance for 175,000 most vulnerable individuals. UNHCR has also supported the inter-agency effort led by WHO and UNICEF to vaccinate children against polio. Vaccines for 538,000 children were recently airlifted to Al Hassakeh and other hard-to-reach locations in north-eastern Syria.