Suicide bombing cuts short visit by Sienna Miller to Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon

By Nina Nannar - ITV News Correspondent

On the day we arrived we learned there had been a security alert in the South of Beirut, but in general, in a country, a city once so synonymous with violence and war, these had been relatively peaceful times.

And so we set off early on Friday morning, in a convoy of cars for International Medical Corps, a humanitarian organisation that has operated out of Lebanon for a decade, and to highlight their work, their Global Ambassador, actress Sienna Miller.

She is well used to visiting strife torn areas for the organisation - the Congo, Haiti and now the Bekaa Valley, bordering Syria, and home to more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees.

Lebanon, a country the size of Yorkshire, now has a quarter of its population made up of those who have fled the conflict, a staggering and heartbreaking number, and Sienna Miller was here to talk about the work IMC are doing in the 1200 camps that have taken root in Lebanese soil, in a country where formal camp settlements are actually not permitted.

There were many security checkpoint to go through as we travelled the Beirut to Damascus road, a road countless Lebanese will have taken in years gone by to holiday in their beautiful neighbouring country. As the police and soldiers alike looked in our cars and then waved us through we continued to the camps in Taanayel.

Talking with refugee women in the camp. Credit: ITV News

But then the head of the IMC charity, in the car with myself and my camera woman Jenny Ross took a phone call. "When did it happen? Any more information?" It was clear from his voice something worrying had happened. He was calling the drivers of other three cars in our convoy and then turned to us to say there had been an explosion, no more details but that we would carry on.

By the time we arrived at the refugee camp, and Sienna and the rest of us jumped out of our cars, we had the disturbing details.

The checkpoint moments after the suicide attack. Credit: ITV News

A suicide bomber had blown himself up at the same checkpoint we had gone through that same morning, on the same road, perhaps an hour or so before. He had killed a policeman and injured 37 other people.

It was one of a number of coordinated assaults in and around Beirut that day - most foiled by the intelligence services, but proof it seemed that the Syrian conflict had spilled over the border into Lebanon, a country already staggering over the weight of so many refugees.

Sienna said it was nerve wracking to have experienced the violence so closeby - proof she said the how brave humanitarian workers, like those for IMC, are.

It goes to show that the work International Medical Corps are doing in this region is very heroic and really necessary.

– Seinna Miller, International Medical Corps Ambassador
The blast at a checkpoint near the camp. Credit: ITV News

But she was here to meet the refugees and we went into the camp, meeting mothers suffering from mental illness and trauma, their children some as young as 4, depressed and terrified.

Sadly with the security alert so heightened by the suicide bombing in the valley, the head of IMC motioned to us within 20 minutes - we had to leave - to find another safe route back to Beirut as the security services launched a crackdown.

It was heartbreaking to leave the camp so quickly, Sienna Miller was anxious that the story of the refugees would still go out - we need to let people know what's happening here she said, even when its not in the headlines any more.

More: 'There is no home to go back to' for the refugees of Syria

Seinna Miller called the situation in Lebanon ' the greatest refugee crisis in the world.' Credit: ITV News

What the International Medical Corps does, which is so fantastic, is provide training and resources so that locals can empower themselves. It means a country is self-sufficient – locals helping locals which is empowering and dignified.

– Seinna Miller, International Medical Corps Ambassador

We made it safely back, we could leave the camp when the safety fears rose. More than a million others though have no option but to stay, and as we discovered first hand, in a country which seems to be slipping back into violence, when for so many, it has become a place of refuge

Sienna Miller, International Medical Corps’ Global Ambassador, was in Lebanon to raise awareness about the ongoing Syria crisis and draw attention to the First Responders campaign.

A collaboration between International Medical Corps and the European Commission to celebrate humanitarian first responders in places like Lebanon who are saving lives every day.

Watch Nina Nannar's full report on ITV News tonight at 11.15pm on ITV 1.