Palestinians stranded at Syria/Lebanon border

DAMASCUS - The UN is urgently appealing to Damascus to ease restrictions at the Syria-Lebanon border to allow Palestinians fleeing Lebanon to enter.

“There are 200 Palestinians stranded at border points; some on the main Damascus-Beirut route, others at Dabboussyah near the border governorate of Homs,” Panos Moumtzis, director of the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) in Syria, told IRIN on Monday.

More than 100,000 people, mostly Syrian but including Lebanese and other foreign nationals, have fled ongoing Israeli attacks and crossed into Syria since 12 July. Some 150 Palestinians have crossed into Damascus since the crisis started.

A source at the Syrian Immigration Department, who wished to remain unnamed, told IRIN that only Palestinians who have residency visas in Lebanon or who need urgent medical care could enter “in a normal way”. Those without relevant documentation must have special permission, which takes several hours to be granted.

Many of the 400,000 Palestinians in Lebanon do not have rights or residency status or even documents with them when fleeing.
UNRWA has requested Damascus to allow these Palestinians to cross the borders quickly on humanitarian grounds. “Syria has been traditionally and historically very generous with the Palestinians and also gives them equal rights the same as its citizens. We hope that this generosity will also be applied to those fleeing an impossible situation,” Moumtzis said.

UNRWA has established emergency response units in Syria to receive Palestinians in UNRWA-run schools in Damascus and the Yarmouk refugee camp, 8km south of Damascus. Food, medical supplies, blankets and mattresses are provided.

Palestinian refugee Asiya and her 18 family members took a treacherous journey from the Ain al-Helwah refugee camp, in southern Lebanon on the border with Israel, to Syria. She and her family are now staying in a school in Yarmouk camp.

She says she had a lucky escape. “We don’t have any money… we ran away and couldn’t bring anything with us. We are now dependant on UNRWA’s assistance.”

Kheir Ghizlani from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon says there were 3,000 Palestinians there “….Israeli shells were falling close to our camp,” she said.

Ghizlani says her father was in critical condition and despite not having documents they were allowed in. “We were allowed in for humanitarian reasons, despite not meeting the requirements, as my father was in need of urgent medical care.”

Moumtzis says UNRWA is working closely with UN agencies and the Syrian Red Crescent. “The Syrian Red Crescent has done extraordinary work in terms of coping with the situation,” he says. “At the moment, what is happening is a humanitarian crisis and tragedy with tens of thousands of civilians who have crossed the borders into Syria seeking a safe place.”

The UNRWA official appealed for funds, asking donor countries to contribute additional money to assist Palestinians.

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