Syria crisis: Progress is positive, but refugees can’t be forgotten

Written by Kadry Furany, Vice President of International Operations for CARE Canada. He travelled to Jordan in late September 2013 to visit CARE’s projects supporting Syrian refugees.

Achievements made at the UN Security Council regarding Syria’s chemical weapons have been described in the media as a “major breakthrough” in the overall context of the war.

Unfortunately, this “breakthrough” doesn’t mean that the refugee situation in and around Syria has been reduced to anything short of a crisis.

Indeed, as discussions on chemical weapons were taking place at the UN, the number of people fleeing this conflict continued to escalate, placing increasing strain on surrounding nations that must handle this humanitarian challenge.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates there are more than 2.1 million persons of concern in the countries surrounding Syria – over half of which are children. That is in addition to the millions of people estimated to be displaced within Syria itself.

While we often see images of these refugees living in formal camps, the majority are actually living in poor urban areas of cities like Amman and Beirut.

What would this mean if it were your city?

It would mean thousands of additional people living in apartments and rooming houses in your poorest neighborhoods or under tarps in makeshift camps.

Think of the strain poverty already puts on your community right now. Imagine adding hundreds of thousands of new people in only a couple years.

Refugees are not legally allowed to work in host countries and so are forced to rely on the kindness of others or find informal work at significantly lower wages, undercutting the local population and driving overall wages down.

At the same time, it’s essential that children forced to flee from violence be allowed to attend school. Yet, this adds considerable weight to the local school system, leaving too many kids behind.

Finally, many people who escape war bring with them serious injuries sustained from the conflict or on-going medical conditions that need to be urgently addressed. This is in addition to mental strain over the traumatic events they experienced in their home country.

How do you think your local health clinics and hospitals could cope?

This is what is occurring right now in host countries like Jordan and Lebanon that have generously allowed refugees to seek safety across their border.

“The flow of Syrian refugees in Jordan already equals one-tenth of our own population. It could reach one million, some 20 per cent of our population, by next year,” Jordan King Abdullah II told the UN General Assembly last week.

“These are not just numbers; they are people, who need food, water, shelter, sanitation, electricity, health care, and more. Not even the strongest global economies could absorb this demand on infrastructure and resources, let alone a small economy and the fourth water-poorest country in the world.”

It’s essential that children forced to flee from violence be allowed to attend school.

Would Canada be prepared to deal with such an influx?

It is also worth remembering that the more than 540,000 registered Syrian refugees in Jordan are in addition to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees and Palestinians who fled to this country years ago and remain there today.

I recently returned from a week-long trip to Jordan to meet with CARE officials supporting the Syrian refugee crisis in the region. In this country alone, three quarters of the refugee population live with host families or in rented apartments in border towns or the capital Amman.

During my travels, I met with Zainab, a 28-year-old mother living with 10 other extended family members, sharing the limited space available in a single bedroom apartment in an old Palestinian refugee camp northeast of Amman. She was injured in Syria, fled on foot despite the shrapnel above her knee. Weeks later, she was treated in a Jordanian hospital, yet still has difficulty walking. Her husband remains in Syria, but his health and location were unknown when we met.

In addition to paying for rent, Zainab’s family needs to buy medication for her brother who has a heart condition. At the same time, her mother, at 80 years of age with medical issues, remains a worry.

CARE is providing cash assistance to help Syrian refugees like Zainab pay for basic living costs, including rent, food and essential relief items, valuable commodities that can help them though the cold winter. We are also supplying vital information on how refugees can access further aid such as health care and social support.

So far, we have reached more than 100,000 refugees in Jordan and a further 10,000 Jordanians with relief supplies and emergency cash to support their gracious efforts to host the influx of Syrians.

While we are proud of these results, our team remains cognizant that roughly 5,000 refugees continue to flee Syria each day.

A peaceful solution to the overall conflict is needed now more than ever.

CARE is supporting thousands of refugees who have fled the conflict in Syria. Learn more.