UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow asks the world to step up for Syrian refugees

Lebanon, 16 January 2013 – Lebanese communities who have taken Syrian refugees into their homes are setting an example of selflessness and community spirit that the world must match, says UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow. Report by Soha Bsat Boustani

Witnessing the frustration of humanitarian workers and the agony of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow asks the international community to step up its efforts.

Exceptionally tough winter

Ms. Farrow made the remarks at a Beirut press conference following a two-day visit to Lebanon during which she met some of the estimated 200,000 Syrian refugees living in host communities scattered across the country.

She said she had been emotionally affected by the conditions the refugees were facing in villages and informal settlements she’d visited in Wadi Khaled in the north and in the eastern Bekaa Valley.

The situation of the children and women who make up about three quarters of the fast-growing refugee population was especially worrying during what has been one of the toughest winters in the region in a decade.

“People are living in a foot of mud,” said Ms. Farrow. “It was appalling.”

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow holds a baby during a meeting with Syrian refugee families
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mia Farrow holds a baby during a meeting with Syrian refugee families sheltering in a makeshift tent settlement near the town of Baalbeck in the eastern Bekaa Valley, near the Syrian border. UNICEF Image © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0013/Ramoneda

Host families open their homes

At the same time, the internationally renowned actress and long-time UNICEF advocate said she’d been deeply touched by the way ordinary Lebanese families – themselves very poor – had opened up their homes and hearts to the incoming refugees.

On her visit, Ms. Farrow walked the remains of two floors of an unfinished cement house in Baalbeck in the Bekaa Valley where five families of Syrian refugees are sheltered. The freezing atmosphere was thawed by the warm and friendly hospitality of young Syrian children, who came to join her under the porch to show the way to the second floor, which had been recently rehabilitated.

Seeing the freshly cleaned tiles on the floor, she removed her boots, heavy with mud from her visit to a nearby makeshift camp. Sitting cross-legged, her notebook filled with sad stories, she listened carefully to the concerns of women and children gathered around her.

Hanna, the Lebanese host, had welcomed the 45 family members for almost a year in an apartment with one living room, two bedrooms and a kitchen. The large family eat together from one big platter.

They spoke so highly of Hanna. One grandmother said, with tears running down her face, that never in her life had she thought she would be with nothing. Her husband had been killed, and Hanna’s family had taken her in. While she grieved for what is lost, they lifted her up.

“Let’s be a community”

In response to the Syrian crisis, UNICEF Lebanon is stepping up its work, with a focus on providing drinkable water to refugees, and ensuring more Syrian children have access to school and specialist assistance for those most deeply distressed by their experiences of the conflict.

Ms. Farrow helps Syrian refugee children unpack shoes and other winter clothing
Ms. Farrow helps Syrian refugee children unpack shoes and other winter clothing, at the offices of a UNICEF partner NGO in Baalbeck. “My plea for the world is: Let’s be a community," she says. UNICEF Image © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0018/Marta Ramoneda

Under the Regional Response Plan issued in December 2012, UNICEF Lebanon is seeking US$35 million, of which less than one third is currently funded. Speaking at the Beirut press conference, UNICEF Lebanon Representative Annamaria Laurini pointed out that the United Nations’ US$1.5 billion appeal for the Syrian Arab Republic issued in December 2012 had produced only a minimal response.

“All the agencies are underfunded. We don’t have enough of anything – whether it’s clothes, shoes, medicines or other supplies,” said Ms. Laurini.

It is time for the international community to demonstrate a similar level of generosity as the one she witnessed in Baalbeck, said Ms. Farrow.

“My plea for the world is: Let’s be a community. When people are suffering to this degree, surely we can all step up.”

To support UNICEF’s emergency relief efforts for children affected by the crisis in Syria, please visit our donation page.

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