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As Lebanese Return Home, UN Provides Aid

As Lebanese Return Home, UN Provides Aid, Warns Of Mine Risk

New York, Aug 14 2006

With thousands of people moving back to their homes or communities in war-ravaged Lebanon, where a cessation of hostilities took effect this morning, United Nations agencies are providing assistance while warning of the dangers posed by landmines and other unexploded ordnance.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has immediately sent out five emergency mobile teams to the main transit routes. The relief workers are handing out water, blankets, mattresses and other desperately needed items and assessing the population’s requirements and movements.

In an update, the agency reported that as Lebanese civilians drive to their homes in cars stuffed with belongings, they are voicing relief at going back but trepidation at what they might find. “People are very happy to return, but have no clue whether their house is still there or whether they will have food to eat tonight,” the agency said. “One girl who came back from Syria told us she had left at 6 a.m. and now only wants to return home to her toys and friends.”

The agency is not only helping the displaced but also refugees crossing back into Lebanon. Its teams in Syria have seen thousands of people return through the Dabousyah border crossing. UNHCR mobile teams are on hand there to distribute food and water.

In preparation for the return, UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner Judy Cheng-Hopkins met today with the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who shared the agency’s wish for people to return home or as close to their original homes as soon as possible.

The agency will be offering assistance to those without any homes, providing shelter during the emergency and transition phase. In the immediate future this would mean tents, but on the longer term, UNHCR plans, with the help of other agencies and in support of government activities, to contribute to providing more permanent shelter that can take people through the winter.

Today UNHCR staff in Saida will be opening a warehouse and office and set up operations, while in Tyre a joint UN office will also be set up. “We are preparing for large distributions to help the returnees and are pre-positioning goods,” the agency said.

Some 50,000 tents, 230,000 mattresses, 172,000 blankets as well as other supplies, including trucks, are presently being flown from all over the region or shipped towards Beirut. Meanwhile, UNHCR, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have issued an urgent appeal concerning the dangers to civilians of unexploded military ordnance (UXO).

They advised civilians to “exercise the utmost caution when approaching zones of military activity to ensure that the situation is safe.”

On average, 10 per cent of shells, mortars and other projectiles do not explode on impact, according to the agencies, which warned that these pieces of (UXO) can remain lying on the ground or in other locations, but remain highly dangerous, according to the agencies, which warned that the slightest movement can cause them to explode.

In order to avert the risk of loss of life or injury caused by UXO, the agencies are launching a nationwide campaign on Tuesday.

ENDS

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