UN Seeks Assad Approval for More Aid Worker Access in Syria

Sectarian and sexual violence is rising in Syria and human-rights abuses are continuing as neighborhoods are shelled, towns are besieged, the currency loses value and infrastructure is destroyed, United Nations humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos said today.

Amos said she had “positive meetings” in Damascus yesterday with officials from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government about “challenges we have faced in getting approval for field operations, convoys and visas for humanitarian aid workers.”

More than one-third of the war-torn country’s 22 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance as thousands of them spill into neighboring countries in search of refuge, Amos told reporters today on a videoconference from Beirut, Lebanon.

The UN expects the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to exceed 1 million by the end of this year, Amos said. More than 725,000 Syrian refugees have crossed into Lebanon during the 2 1/2-year-old civil war, Amos said.

More than 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict and more than 6 million have been displaced from their homes, compelling the UN to make its largest appeal ever -- for $4.4 billion during 2013 -- to assist people in Syria and those who’ve fled to neighboring countries. The UN has raised about 40 percent of that amount, Amos said, urging more international donors to participate.

Humanitarian Workers

About 4,500 UN staff members remain in Syria, and 11 have been killed over the course of the conflict, Amos said. The staff, which includes Syrians and non-Syrian nationals, will continue humanitarian work regardless of a possible U.S. strike against Syria in response to the Assad regime’s alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21, she said.

UN workers have been kidnapped and armed groups continue to threaten them, some through social-media sites, Amos said.

Syrians told her that “the international community has abandoned them and that they’d like to see the international community together, agreeing on action leading to a political solution inside of Syria,” Amos said. “People remain fearful, and a lot of people are fearful because the future remains so uncertain.”

Robert Watkins, head of the UN Development Program’s Beirut office, said Lebanon was struggling before the civil war to accommodate as many as 1.5 million Syrians who were already in Lebanon as migrant workers.

“The number of refugees and migrant workers from outside Lebanon is enormous and is having a huge impact on the Lebanese economy,” Watkins said during the videoconference.

Amos said she met with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati today in Beirut to discuss an assistance package for education, health, water sanitation and infrastructure needs.

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