What can a donation of $12 buy?

As part of our series reporting from Lebanon, we follow your donations from Dubai to the refugee camp doorstep 

It is enough to register a refugee in Lebanon

At the UNHCR registration centre in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, scores of Syrian refugees cluster quietly under shade as they wait to be ushered into a large white tent. Their docility this morning is as much a consequence of exhaustion or resignation, as it is indicative of any newfound reservoirs of patience; the previous week, a woman set herself on fire on this spot in an effort to draw attention to the plight of her family.

These people are desperate, and this huge canvas pavilion, stamped with the blue olive branches of the UNHCR logo, represents any hope they have for the future.

Inside the tent, which serves as the agency’s main registration facility for the almost 300,000 refugees that have so far flooded into northern Lebanon, the atmosphere is different altogether. It is as if the physical pain and psychological strain of days spent on the road, on foot, or squeezed into battered vehicles, can be contained no longer and finds its outlet here. Parents weep while their children run amok or slump mutely in plastic chairs, overwhelmed by everything they have seen and everything they have already lost in the course of their young lives.

Yet for the first time in days, weeks or even months, help is at hand for these wretched families: among them move blue-jacketed UNHCR staff, taking names, guiding them through registration forms, and encouraging them in their first steps towards rebuilding their shattered lives.

“Registration is crucial because it allows us to assess who is here, and what their needs are,” says Ninette Kelley at UNHCR. “Across the whole country we’re registering 11,000 new people per week, more than most countries would take in a year, and we’re also reregistering 12,000 people a week who were issued with their papers a year ago. It’s a massive exercise, one of the most complex in the world today.”

The Tripoli centre processes around 400 new arrivals each day, as well as another 800 who are renewing their status as refugees.

Once registered, displaced Syrians are able to avail of food programmes and medical treatment, to apply for accommodation, and to move freely without fear of being detained at the hundreds of police checkpoints scattered across the country. They exist once more, individual names and details in a ledger and distinct from the shapeless torrent of humanity that cascades out of Syria each day the conflict drags on. Each person is interviewed, their irises are scanned for biometric records, and they are assigned a number. Dependents are counted and children under the age of 18 are administered vaccinations against polio and measles, and given vitamin supplements.

“The Ministry of Public Health and UNICEF have gone out with a very aggressive campaign,” says Bathoul Ahmed, a public information assistant with UNHCR, of the vaccination campaign.

Syria had been polio-free since 1995; however, an eruption of cases in March this year was described by the UN as “the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication”. According to Bathoul, the risk of the disease spreading to Lebanon is acute, and so vaccination teams are sent door-to-door in refugee communities, to schools across the country and to border crossings and registration centres.

Neither the refugees, nor the country that hosts them, can afford to count polio among the myriad miseries carried wearily across the border.