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Damascus - The UN refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Thursday that it has started the 1st out of up to 13 airlifts planned to deliver winterized core relief items (CRI), medicine, and other supplies to 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in northeastern Syria. The first flight took off today from Damascus heading to Qamishli with hundreds of boxes of medical supplies including medicines, vaccines, syringes, sugar and saline solution, in addition to a UNHCR armored vehicle. The second and third flight will follow tomorrow with 5000 kitchen sets, two prefabricated warehouses and winterized CRI on board.
"We have closely coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to acquire the necessary clearances. We relied on their understanding of the dire humanitarian needs and on their cooperation in the delivery of our mandate and assistance particularly with the severe weather," said UNHCR Representative Tarik Kurdi.
Cold temperatures and rainy winter weather continue to pose a serious challenge to displaced persons in Syria with many reporting rising respiratory illnesses like asthma and flu due to the cold while having to burn plastic, garbage and other waste to keep warm.
In other areas of the country, Al Tadamoun of Damascus Governorate and Ashrafyet Sehnaya, Al Kesweh and Qudsaya of Rural Damascus Governorate, UNHCR managed to deliver CRI to 38,500 IDPs within the ending week with the help of its national partners. Distribution also continued in Aleppo where more than 15,000 Iraqi refugees received UNHCR's CRI kits.
Since 1st November, when UNHCR kicked off its "winterization" programme to get extra warm items into the hands of the IDPs, more than 1.1 million persons benefited.
Yet the cold weather is not the only problem. Many roads are still inaccessible either because of insecurity or infrastructural destruction. "Sometimes we are compelled to rely on the expensive and unsustainable option of chartering planes for airlifting". During December of last year, we funded multiple airlifts to Al Hassakeh Governorate to facilitate the delivery of winterized aid and vaccines to tens of thousands of extremely vulnerable families," UNHCR Representative, Tarik Kurdi, commented.
UNHCR also relies on sea freight. Shipping containers carrying UNHCR winter supplies like fleece blankets and kitchen sets have arrived during the last week at the ports of Tartous and Lattakia. Once through customs, the relief supplies are stocked in the agency's Tartous warehouse before being transferred to needy communities throughout the country.
The Refugee Agency currently has nearly 400 staff in Syria working out of six offices in Damascus, Aleppo, Hassakeh, Qamishly, Homs, and Tartous. Persons of concern to UNHCR in Syria include 6.5 million IDPs and around 45,000 refugees.