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On visit to region, UN food relief agency chief praises Lebanon for support of Syrian refugees

7 November 2012 – The head of the United Nations food relief agency today expressed her thanks to the people and Government of Lebanon for their support of Syrians seeking refuge from the violence affecting their country.

“We are grateful for the generosity of the Lebanese people and their Government for keeping an open door policy to displaced Syrians in search of safety and for facilitating WFP’s work in Lebanon to assist Syrian refugees,” said the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP), Ertharin Cousin.

The UN official’s comments came at the end of the first day of a three-day trip to the Middle East – involving Lebanon and Jordan – to see the increasing humanitarian needs of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. In addition, the trip is her first official visit to the region since she assumed her post as head of WFP in April.

Syria has been wracked by violence, with at least 20,000 people, mostly civilians, killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began some 20 months ago. The violence has spawned more than 380,000 refugees – many of them seeking safety and aid in neighbouring countries – while more than 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN estimates.

WFP has launched a regional emergency operation to cover the food needs of Syrians who have fled to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In Lebanon, it aims to reach more than 85,000 refugees with food vouchers in November alone.

While in the Lebanese capital of Beirut today, Ms. Cousin held talks with the country’s President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati on the situation and challenges facing Lebanon and the humanitarian response from WFP and partners.

“My responsibility is to provide a voice to the humanitarian needs of the displaced Syrians whom I met today and to work with the international community to ensure that we continue to address the basic needs of Syrians whether still inside Syria or in neighbouring countries,” Ms. Cousin told a news conference in Beirut.

In the afternoon, Ms. Cousin travelled to the Bekaa Valley, in eastern Lebanon, and visited a distribution centre where refugees receive WFP food vouchers. Under the voucher system, often used by the UN agency in urban settings, beneficiaries can buy their own groceries, including fresh food, from local shops, which also helps boost the local economy.

The WFP chief also went to a grocery shop in the town of Britel in the Baalbek area and met Syrian families redeeming their vouchers. Visiting a Syrian family in its temporary accommodation in Baalbek, she heard first-hand how the family members left their home in Rural Homs – and the difference that the agency’s food vouchers have meant for them.

“We left our home and fled with only the clothes on our backs as bombing and shelling hit our neighbourhood nine months ago and our home was totally destroyed,” said Abeer, a 35-year-old wife and mother of four daughters, according to a WFP news release. “We left everything behind and are struggling to make ends meet. The food vouchers that we receive from WFP are giving us a break and we don’t have to worry about feeding our children.”

On Thursday, the WFP Executive Director will visit Jordan.

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