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It's the two-year anniversary of the start of the Syria unrest. It began on 15 March 2011 with nationwide protests following arrests in the southern city of Deraa. Up to 70,000 people have been killed in Syria and over one million have fled their homes and are now left with nothing.
Of the five countries currently hosting Syrian refugees the small nation of Lebanon is hosting the highest number. According to its President, Mr. Michel Suleiman, one in four people in his country is now a refugee. At the request of the government, ShelterBox has been helping the more vulnerable families in the country. To do so, ShelterBox Response Teams (SRTs) have been working with a large number of local implementing partners to assist a refugee population that is growing at a rate of 2,000 per day.
SRTs have been collaborating with 27 implementing partners throughout Lebanon. They were introduced to eachother by Rotoractor Belal al Ayoubi who has been providing invaluable assistance to Shelterbox's responses in Lebanon and in Iraq.
Each group is based in its own community and most have been doing humanitarian work since before the conflict began over two years ago. They keep detailed records, updated daily, of the refugees staying in their areas. This information has helped ShelterBox bring emergency winterised shelter to those people most in need.
The implementing partners include Scout groups, municipalities, grassroots non-governmental organisations and Lebanese families. Through their assistance, ShelterBox has been able to focus on families whose members have serious vulnerabilities including chronic illnesses, injuries, pregnancies and extremes of age.
'We are working with a very dynamic family that has been doing humanitarian work in the Northeast of the county,' said ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Phil Duloy (UK/US).
'They have helped us to distribute aid in a particularly remote area that is something of a no-man’s land in which people can hear bombs exploding in the areas from which they have just arrived. It is a place where no one wants to live. It is safer than Syria but it experiences frequent sandstorms and sub-zero temperatures. Most of the refugees living here were hoping only to pass through it on their way to more hospitable areas. Those who have stayed have done so as they do not have passports, which are required to enter Lebanon- many of the refugees lost them on the way or had them destroyed in the fighting. Many are injured. They live in cold, drafty and damp makeshift shelters. Without our implementing partners, we would not have had access to the people in massive need here.'
'For security reasons, the boxes can only be transported in small consignments in inconspicuous vehicles,' commented SRT member Gerry de Vries (NL). 'This is now being done with local vehicles and local drivers at the most reasonable cost. The total area to be covered is vast and, again, local knowledge is indispensable in delivering the boxes effectively.
'Security is always a concern, but with the close involvement of representatives of the local police and others, this is now managed as tightly as humanly possible. In addition, the partners can go into areas where ShelterBox would be unwise to venture.
'Moreover, there is a very significant, and rising, gap between the need for and the availability of emergency shelter. It was inspiring to see the integrity, seriousness, commitment and diligence displayed by key members of some local implementing partners when discussing and deciding which families were the most vulnerable and therefore most deserving of the very scarce aid; An important, often painful and at times heart-breaking role, which only they can fulfill.'
A Scout group in the southern Bekaa Valley is another implementing partner. It has a good knowledge of issues affecting the area and has developed a registration system that identifies the most needy families from those who have already received aid as well as what need is still necessary.
'It is great to see the enormous amount of time and effort these people are willing to give to help families that arrive in their community having lost everything in the conflict and are traumatised or ill,' added SRT member Anne Seuren (NL).
'The situation in the Bekaa Valley is rough and there aren't many places for the refugees to stay. By setting up these ShelterBox tents, the Scout group can immediately lodge families that often arrive in the middle of the night with small children, until they find a more permanent home.'
Many Lebanese people in the south of the country were refugees themselves during the 2006 war against Israel, where many sought safety in Syria.
'Some people tell me here that they were so well looked after by the Syrians that they wish to repay them by looking after them now during their time of need,' said Phil. 'Amongst all the sadness here, it's good to hear about this reciprocal kindness.'
ShelterBox continues to work in partnership with this extensive network of implementing partners, enabling each party to concentrate on its own strength and bring unique resources, knowledge and experience to bear in difficult situations. This maximises both the efficacy and efficiency of the delivery of shelter and other lifesaving supplies to vulnerable refugee families.