Syrian refugees in Lebanon stranded by U.N. food aid cut

By Oliver Holmes QAB ELIAS, Lebanon (Reuters) - Syrian refugees who had their food aid cut when a U.N. agency ran out of money last week say that without it they will be unable to feed themselves, educate their children or warm their tents in the freezing winter. Electronic vouchers that allow 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to buy food in stores were not topped up for December on Friday because the U.N. World Food Programme said it had run out of money. "There are days when we eat and there are others when we don't," said Um Ali, a mother from Syria's Homs province who lives in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley with 300 other refugees. "We are coping with our situation the best we can." Emilia Casella, a WFP spokeswoman in Rome, said on Monday that a public appeal launched last week when the food programme was suspended has had a good response so far. The money raised should allow the vouchers to be topped up late for December, though it is not yet clear if the full amount will be restored. Syria's civil war is entering its fourth harsh winter. Donors provided barely more than half the money the United Nations sought this year. Some Syrians say it would be better to go home and die in the war than starve across the border, said Ahmad Chaaban Abdallah, a Syrian from Aleppo who heads the Qab Elias camp housing 50 families in makeshift tents in Lebanon. "At least there, they call us martyrs when we die. They won't say we died from hunger," he said. In Lebanon, where a quarter of the population are now refugees, the authorities have barred the United Nations from opening official camps, so the displaced are scattered across some 1,700 communities. Many live in makeshift settlements, sheds, garages and unfinished buildings. At Qab Elias, some of the tents are made from old billboard posters. Most of the residents are children. Many refugees had dug trenches around the tents to deal with the rain. Snow lay on surrounding mountains. Few refugees said they had found work. Each of the families in Qab Elias pays $500 a year to rent the land from its Lebanese owners. APPEAL With just three weeks left in 2014, the United Nations has received only 53 percent of the $3.7 billion it appealed for this year for Syrian humanitarian operations. The four-year-old civil war is already the largest refugee crisis in a generation and one of the largest since World War Two. At least 3.2 million people have fled Syria and 200,000 have been killed, the United Nations says. Around a third of the people inside Syria have been made homeless. A conference in Geneva will be held on Tuesday, as host countries Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have started restricting access to people fleeing the war. Many are turned back. Aid agencies said on Monday that rich countries should agree to take at least 5 percent of all Syrian refugees by the end of 2015. Amnesty International said on Friday that the failure of wealthy Gulf states to resettle a single refugee from the Syrian conflict was "particularly shameful". Resentment in Lebanon against Syrian refugees has grown amid accusations that militants are hiding among the displaced population. In the latest of dozens of attacks, Lebanese gunmen opened fire on and burned refugee tents on Sunday, wounding two refugees, security sources said. Tensions have been particularly high after Syria's al Qaeda offshoot Nusra said on Friday it killed a captive Lebanese policeman. Some Lebanese also complain that refugees are taking jobs, driving down wages, overloading schools and hospitals. The government has said it cannot cope with the influx and has asked for funds to help look after them. (Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Peter Graff)