Red Cross, Syria Struggle with Humanitarian Duties

The International Committee of the Red Cross in Damascus is overwhelmed with aid that it can't deliver it to the Lebanese people who need it. Syria is also facing problems coping with the flood of refugees from Lebanon.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DON GONYEA, host:

Lebanese civilians are paying a heavy price for the latest Middle East conflict. Across Lebanon medicine is in short supply and most humanitarian aid is unable to get where it's needed most. Israel is allowing some breaks in its air and sea blockade of Lebanon. The United States has pledged $40 million in aid, and with Arab governments joining the effort, contributions are pouring in to neighboring Syria but the routes into Lebanon are dangerous and often blocked.

NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Damascus.

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

The Syrian capital has become a warehouse for aid desperately needed for the humanitarian crisis next door in Lebanon. Tamara Al-Rifai, with the International Committee of the Red Cross, said more aid arrives each day.

Ms. TAMARA AL-RIFAI (International Committee of the Red Cross): Two Saudi aircrafts, military aircraft - with completely full. Many trucks as well, coming into Syria from Kuwait, from Bahrain, from Jordan. What we're mostly focusing on right now is the medical supplies. The priority is to have enough medicine and to have enough medical equipment.

AMOS: But getting aid to Lebanon is frustrating, says Al-Rifai. The route overland through Syria is the fastest way for supplies to reach those who need it, but last week an aid truck from the United Arab Emirates was hit in an Israeli air strike on a Lebanese road.

Al-Rifai says the convoys must have guarantees of safe passage. Arranging those guarantees has been difficult.

Ms. AL-RIFAI: Because we need to get a green light from everybody who's involved in the fighting to tell us that this particular road - with all the stops on it, everything is safe for the duration of the passage - which is not easy in military and conflict situations.

AMOS: More than half a million Lebanese are displaced inside the country. Tens of thousands of Lebanese have fled to Syria. The Syrian government has pledged to take care of them for as long as the fighting continues. But the destruction in some Lebanese towns and villages is so extensive, it will be months before many can go home, says Al-Rifai.

Ms. AL-RIFAI: We need to think in terms of what will happen in the coming three months, at least. They might want to go back to their country, but if their villages can't - don't exist anymore, or if their houses don't exist anymore, I don't know where they're heading.

AMOS: They are housed in neighborhoods across the Syrian capital, in mosques and in schools: Lebanese refugees who face an uncertain future.

Syria welcomed them with open arms, mounting a mass campaign for donations and volunteers. But now it appears the humanitarian crisis could last for months, and that could strain Syrian goodwill.

Rada and Hammad Hussein(ph) opened their home to a Lebanese family. Rada says she was moved by the television images. She sent her husband to the border to offer anyone a place to stay.

Ms. RADA HUSSEIN (Syrian Woman Housing Lebanese Refugees): (Through translator) People who know that you have Lebanese, they help us with food and to take care of them. But the most important thing for us is to make them - help them feel better. Because when they came here they were feeling so bad, and we just want them to feel better and have high spirits.

AMOS: The apartment is too small for long-time guests. So a roof terrace has been turned into a living space for members of the Al-Sukar(ph) family: six women and a five-year-old boy. There are mattresses on the concrete floor, plastic sheeting to keep out the daytime sun, and a hotplate to boil water for tea.

(Soundbite of people talking)

As the crisis drags on, there is concern this latest wave of refugees will have an economic impact on Syria. Syrian schools, empty for the summer, are now refugee centers. Syrian officials are considering delaying fall classes rather than find new places for long-term cases.

Can donations keep up with demand? Many families fled the violence with just the clothes they had on. The Al-Sukar family arrived with nothing, except some toys for five-year-old Ali(ph), a G.I. Joe doll he insisted he needed.

(Soundbite of G.I. Joe doll)

Deborah Amos, NPR News, Damascus.

GONYEA: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.