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ZAHLE, Lebanon, May 27 (UNHCR) - It's 11 a.m. at UNHCR's Zahle Registration Centre and the hall is packed. Thirty-year-old Dana, who arrived in January with her four children after spending months on the run in Syria, is here to be registered as a refugee. This will ensure that they get the aid and protection they need.
The family moved from Aleppo in northern Syria to the countryside when the shelling began in her neighbourhood last year. But then food began to run out. By January of this year, Dana decided to do what she never believed possible. She made her way across the border and settled in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.
For several months the family tried to make ends meet, until they learned that they could receive assistance and protection from UNHCR. The family's registration has come just in time. For the last 30 days, the only income they were receiving came from Dana's 11-year-old son, who earned US$28 per week from labouring work.
They've been living on bread and a few other essentials. "I worry about money. I worry about my kids surviving," Dana said while waiting to register in Zahle. "I think about finding a job and I worry about not finding a job. I still have hope in UNHCR, that they will give me assistance."
Last week, more than 980 families arrived at the centre after fleeing the conflict in Syria and seeking shelter in the Bekaa Valley. "Here in Zahle, we are registering about 1,200 to 1,300 people per day," says Phillip Kibui, an associate registration officer for UNHCR. "We need to bring the waiting period down."
The figures show that that aim is, for the first time, being achieved in Lebanon. In April, when more than 90,000 refugees were registered, waiting periods had decreased from more than a month to an average 28 days throughout the country.
With more than a quarter-of-a-million refugees now fleeing Syria each month, UNHCR is working furiously to help meet the needs of everyone who has crossed the Syrian border. In Lebanon alone, some 4,200 refugees seek out UNHCR to be registered each day.
Registration is the first and most critical step towards ensuring that refugees have the legal rights in the countries to which they are fleeing. It also provides the basis for which refugees can begin to receive assistance, including things like mattresses, cooking items, blankets, health assistance, food and education.
UNHCR has made tremendous strides towards reducing the waiting time for registration, despite the staggering numbers of Syrians crossing into Lebanon. As a result, refugees, the majority of whom are women and children, are now at reduced risk of becoming vulnerable.
The refugee agency's success has hinged on a double strategy of reinforcing the number of registration personnel and streamlining the process. Over the past three months at the Zahle office, the number of registration assistants at UNHCR has increased from 15 to 21.
At the same time, the agency has been careful to make every effort to interview incoming arriving refugees to ensure that single mothers, unaccompanied children, older people, victims of torture and others are provided with the proper assistance.
Some Syrians do not register out of fear. Minority communities and others fear that registration might bring retribution from other refugees or one of the many ethnic and religious groups within Lebanon. UNHCR works with various communities and religious charities to encourage them to come forward.
By Gregory Beals and Lisa Abou Khaled in Zahle, Lebanon