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UN Finds Dire Humanitarian Needs in Homs, Syria

  • Lisa Schlein

A Syrian family crosses into Lebanon at the border crossing in Masnaa, eastern Lebanon, November 30, 2012.

A Syrian family crosses into Lebanon at the border crossing in Masnaa, eastern Lebanon, November 30, 2012.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) reports tens of thousands of displaced people in the embattled Syrian city of Homs are living in unheated communal shelters. The agency recently completed a two-day assessment mission to Homs and found the humanitarian needs in the city to be overwhelming.

The UNHCR says it is difficult to go to Homs, a northern city that has been one of the centers of the Syrian uprising.

The agency says half of the hospitals in Homs are not functional and 60 percent of the doctors have left along with other medical personnel.

Agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says there are severe shortages of basic supplies ranging from medicine to blankets, winter clothes and children's shoes.

Fleming says about one quarter of a million displaced people in and around Homs are living in squalid conditions.

"We visited, when we were there, some of the shelters just to see firsthand what conditions were like," Fleming said. "For example, in the communal buildings, there was one where 70 families were living, 400 people. And another one with over 400 families, if you can imagine that. That is 2,300 people crammed into probably an abandoned public building. This is definitely the largest such shelter."

Fleming says the winter cold has arrived and this is adding to the misery of the displaced population. She says the agency has provided plastic sheeting to people who are using it to cover open doorways and windows in shelters which are unheated.

Fleming adds that delivery of aid is being hampered by the violence.

"We were at least able to get in nine trucks," Fleming noted. "And you see the kinds of assistance that we were delivering - quilts and sleeping mats, and winter blankets and mattresses and even sanitary napkins. And we are scheduled to deliver more in the coming days. So hopefully we have a better idea of what the needs are in this city that has been going through a tremendous shelling since the beginning of the conflict."

Meanwhile in Jordan, the agency says Syrian refugees report they are targeted while fleeing to the border. It says Jordanian hospitals are receiving injured refugees on a daily basis.

Fleming says the refugees flee under the cover of darkness, so it is difficult for them to know who is targeting them.