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Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Lack Food Aid and Education

From VOA Learning English, this is As It Is.

Welcome back. I’m Caty Weaver. On the programtoday we explore the situation of almost a million Syrianrefugees currently living in Lebanon. More and moreflee across the border every day. The United Nations isconcerned about the limited food aid it can provide therefugees. And it says most refugee children arereceiving little or no education.

The Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon: today on As It Is.

Many Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Lose Food Aid

United Nations agencies have been forced to reducefood aid to about one out of five Syrian refugees inLebanon. Those who get no food say they are falling into deep debt. VOAreporter Jamie Detmer investigated the situation from Beirut. ChristopherCruise has his report.

Syrian refugees continue to flee the violence in their country. Many of themare going to Lebanon. U.N. aid agencies found it increasingly difficult toprovide food assistance to them for most of last year. Twenty percent ofregistered refugees had their food aid ended at the end of 2013.

A Syrian refugee family in eastern Lebanon.

Um-Odai fled the Syrian city of Homs with her husband and five children. They are living in a shelter in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

She says her family stopped receiving assistance, and now, they owe a lot ofmoney. Her husband is too sick to look for work. Four of her children are veryyoung. Her oldest son has a wife and a newborn.

She says one of her sons works as a laborer on jobs that sometimes last forjust one day. When he finds a job he can bring money to the family. But Um-Odai says the family owes money to many shops in the area. They do notknow how they will pay their debt.

She says they owe $2,000 after living in Lebanon for a year-and-half.

About eleven thousand Syrian refugees arrive in Lebanon every week. Negotiators have made little progress in reaching an agreement to end thecivil war in Syria. The flow of Syrian refugees to Lebanon shows no sign ofslowing. A million Syrians will have registered as refugees in Lebanon by thebeginning of March if new arrivals continue at the current rate.

Ninette Kelley is the head of the U.N. refugee agency in Lebanon. She saysthe U.N. does not have enough food for all of the refugees, so it helps thosemost at risk.

“Most of last year, blanket food assistance was provided to everybody whowas registered, but this is not something that is a normal practice. But onceyou have more information you can further target your provision of foodassistance according to vulnerability.”

Last year, U.N. agencies worked to establish who were the most at riskamong all registered Syrian refugees. The agencies found 80 percent of therefugees would have no other form of food support without internationalassistance. The agencies used this information to make some difficultdecisions.

“Which meant that there were 20 percent who had been receiving food whowere notified that they would no longer receive it on a regular basis.”

But Um-Odai says she does not understand why she and her family areamong about 250,000 refugees without food assistance. She says thedecision does not seem reasonable. She says she and her husband knowother refugees in the camp who are in the same situation as they are. But, she says, those refugees are still receiving U.N. money to buy food and herfamily is not.

Even those who receive U.N. food aid say life is getting harder and morecostly. They say they, too, are creating debt.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

United Nations officials say one-third of the Syrian refugees fleeing to Lebanonare school-age children. But the majority of them are not able to go to school. We return to Caty Weaver, who has more on the situation of these youngrefugees.

Many Syrian Refugee Children Not Attending School


Syrian refugee children at play in Sidon,Lebanon.

Eleven-year-old Marah has been in Lebanon foreighteen months. She lives in an unofficial refugeesettlement near the coastal Lebanese city of Tripoli. Her family had lived on a farm near the Syrian city ofHoms. They fled when a rocket hit their farmhouseduring an attack.

Marah is luckier than most of the refugee children inLebanon: she is attending school.

Marah says it is difficult for her to learn in Lebanon’sFrench-based educational program. In Syria, she was taught in Arabic. Shesays she speaks Lebanese to understand the other students. But there areproblems. She says they sometimes insult her and other Syrian students forbeing refugees.

But Marah at least has a chance of reaching her goal to become a nurse. Inher settlement there are about 200 families. Only a few of them have childrenin school.

Media reports about the refugees are mostly about their emergency needs --like food and medical care. Those needs take most of the humanitarian aid aswell. But the longer-term needs of the refugees are becoming more centralas the Syrian civil war continues.

The lack of educational possibilities for refugee children is a major concern forNinette Kelley.

“The situation of children is rather dire. There are over 300,000 new Syrianschool-age children, which is the same number of Lebanese children whowere registered at Lebanese schools last year. And while the ministry ofeducation has indicated they could absorb 100,000 in the formal educationsystem that still leaves over 200,000 without a formal education option.”

The U.N. and non-governmental groups are working together to try to providebasic reading and writing classes for children. It is centering efforts on thetemporary refugee settlements that are being created. The Lebanesegovernment has refused permission for the building of official refugee camps.

But, Ms. Kelley says basic reading and writing classes are not going to meetthe needs of older children in the camps.

And that’s As It Is for today. I’m Caty Weaver. Thanks for joining us.

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