Syrian refugees fewer in 2016, but challenges greater: UNHCR

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Despite a small decrease in the overall number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the vulnerable community is facing increased challenges, UNHCR announced this week in its final update for 2016. The report, an official update of work by major aid agencies on the Syrian crisis in Lebanon covering December 2016 to January 2017 and released Tuesday, marked another slight decrease in registered refugees to 1,011,366 – down 185,194 from a peak of 1,196,560 in April 2015. It also noted that $1.12 billion was allocated last year for agencies and the Lebanese government, less than half of the $2.48 billion requested in the 2016 Lebanon crisis response plan. The report included a summary of the finalized 2016 “Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees” that noted a third of refugees were moderately or severely food insecure – an increase of 12 percent since 2015. “The annual study found families had exhausted their limited resources and were adapting to survive on the bare minimum, deploying harmful or asset-depleting coping mechanisms to survive,” the report stated. The Vulnerability Assessment is a joint study from UNHCR, the U.N. Children’s Fund and the World Food Program. On the other hand, the final update of 2016 showed households living below the poverty line remained constant at 71 percent. The declining number of registered refugees stems from orders in April and May 2015 from the Social Affairs Ministry instructing the U.N. to deregister some Syrian refugees and indefinitely suspend new registrations. Over the subsequent two years, the files of tens of thousands of refugees deemed to be no longer in the country were closed. According to Lisa Abou Khaled, communications officer at UNHCR, the files of over 70,000 individuals were closed between Jan. 2016 and Sept. 2016. “UNHCR conducts regular verification exercises to update its information about registered Syrian refugees,” Khaled previously told The Daily Star. “Various circumstances may warrant the inactivation of a refugee file. These include death, departure for resettlement to a third country or spontaneous departure from the country,” she said. While UNHCR has reported a decrease in the number of registered refugees, there remains a large number of unregistered refugees who arrived after the 2015 cutoff. Tuesday’s report also discussed ongoing mental health issues faced by Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Depression, anxiety-related issues, post-traumatic stress disorder and psychosis were all found to be widespread. However, assistance for mental illnesses has remained limited. In the few spaces that offer mental health care, overcrowding and costs continue to be a deterring issue, the report said. To confront the increasing trend, the report noted that UNHCR along with the Health Ministry and partner organizations were working to expand mental health services. Along the same vein, the WHO and Restart Center, an NGO, have pushed mental health care to the front of their priorities by training staff members to “build their detection and referral capacities.”

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