UN uses text messaging to alert Iraqi refugees on new food aid

UN uses text messaging to alert Iraqi refugees on new food aid

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The United Nations is using text messaging on mobile phones to alert more than 33,000 vulnerable Iraqi refugees in the Syrian capital, Damascus, of the launch of the first food distribution programme for them tomorrow.

“We have found text messages to mobile phones are one of the most effective ways of communicating with the refugees who often do not have a stable address but either they or someone close to them in their immediate community has a mobile phone,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva today.

The first ration will cover two months in anticipation of the needs of many families during the upcoming fasting month of Ramadan. Some 10,000 text messages have already been sent by UNHCR and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the two agencies together with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) will start the distribution tomorrow, mainly to women, children and the most vulnerable refugees.

More than 200 volunteers will hand out the food at the SARC warehouses in the old Damascus fairground and UNHCR trucks will also transport food packages to neighbourhoods where Iraqi refugees concentrate.

The packages consist of dry food items from WFP such as oil, rice and lentils as well as additional items provided by UNHCR such as sugar, cheese, canned meat, pasta, beans, cracked wheat, tea, jam, tomato paste and canned fish.

Rations will be distributed on a monthly basis and are expected to benefit 50,000 refugees by the end of the year. UNHCR is providing $2.2 million for the additional food items, covering four months of rations for 50,000 refugees. The agency plans to build facilities in the SARC warehouse compound and to purchase four trucks to help distribute food to Iraqi refugees outside Damascus.

Syria estimates that 1.4 million Iraqis have taken refuge there in the last three years, fleeing the ongoing violence following the United States-led invasion that ousted the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003.

Overall, some 2.2 million Iraqis have fled abroad and 2 million more are currently displaced within their country. An estimated 60,000 Iraqis are fleeing their homes monthly.

Assistant UN High Commissioner for Refugees for Protection Erika Feller leaves tomorrow on a week-long mission to Syria and Lebanon to assess the protection needs of Iraqis in both countries.