ShelterBox relief at green light to help Syria refugees
A Westcountry-based disaster relief charity has become the first international organisation to get supplies to refugees fleeing into Lebanon from the Syria conflict, in the wake of a landmark political deal.
ShelterBox has been trying to get 700 of its specially prepared trademark green crates to help the 400,000 people estimated to have flooded into the tiny country and who are feared to be in danger of overwhelming supplies.
However, local wrangling has kept their lifesaving equipment locked and out of reach in a Beirut Airport hangar since early January.
Phil Duloy, response team member with the Helston-based charity, said that thanks to a deal from the Lebanese government, the deadlock had now been broken and vital aid was on its way.
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"At first glance it is not easy to notice the vast number of refugees here," he said.
"But when you look closer, you can see them everywhere: stables, barns, crowded apartments and half-finished buildings.
"Temperatures here are freezing and the local communities' capacities to assist them are being seriously stretched.
"These people who have fled from terror have been called the hidden homeless because many have vanished into the landscape, into unfinished structures and makeshift shelters.
"Some have now run out of money for rent, food or fuel, and they and their children face appalling conditions in an icy cold winter."
To speed distribution, the charity will use a network of 27 local non-governmental organisations, community groups, Imams and health workers.
"We are using local grass-roots aid organisations as our partners," said Mr Duloy.
"They've been serving the refugee population for two years now, meeting needs based on thorough targeting. They have also been providing prescription drugs, access to doctors, water, food, even phone cards to help refugees contact family."
ShelterBox's head of operations, Ross Preston, said the charity had been forced to play a desperate waiting game, but it was swinging into action to take tents where they are needed.
"It has been a frustrating case of so near, and yet so far.
"We were the first with ministerial permission from the Lebanese government to airlift in tents for shelter.
"But the green light to begin distribution was then delayed for weeks.
"On Monday the boxes were finally released from the airport, so now we can begin to ease the suffering of hundreds of refugee families."
Lebanon is already a haven for up to an estimated 400,000 Syrians, inundating this country of 4 million, Syria's smallest neighbour. It is feared that if conditions worsen in Damascus a further one million could be on the move towards the Lebanese border.
ShelterBox has already distributed aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey Iraqi Kurdistan.