Thursday, April 11, 2013

Imagine for a minute

Imagine for a minute that you live a nice house, with a garden that you lovingly care for, your children are happy in school and you have a job that you love or hate, but one that you go to five days a week. You live in a nice community, say hello to your neighbours when you see them, and when you go to the supermarket you buy the food that you and your family enjoy eating. That's not hard to imagine is it?

Imagine that you take your family out for a picnic one weekend. You have a lovely afternoon enjoying the fresh air, the kids run around for a while and everyone has a great time. Not hard to imagine either. Now what happens when you return home and you find that your house has been bombed and you have nothing left?

I've heard this story first hand, from refugees from Syria. My colleagues have also heard it from other families who one day were living their lives (as normally as can be in the midst of a civil war), and the next had absolutely nothing. Their only option was to flee their homes and neighbourhoods and cross an international border. Many refugees from Syria have extended family living in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, or Egypt and have had somewhere to go, someone to look after them. But many thousands of people have nowhere to go, no support system to look out for them, no choice.

In Jordan, 150,000 people now call the Za'atri camp home. I've shared some photos of that camp before. Syria is a middle income country, and many (most?) of the refugees now living in the camp have never spent a night in a tent, let alone months and months and months. It's hard to imagine leaving a comfortable home to live in a tent. There aren't jobs, there aren't enough schools. When you add on top of this being completely reliant on aid agencies to provide you with food, sharing kitchen and bathroom facilities with hundreds of people, most of whom are strangers, it becomes very hard to imagine how people cope. About 70% of refugees don't live in camps, they are staying with family, or with people who are opening their homes free of charge. Many are renting rooms and are running out of money fast.

In Lebanon there isn't a formal camp. People again are renting small rooms, sometimes containing more than one family, and sometimes the only spaces that can be afforded are sub-standard garages or incomplete buildings. Informal tented settlements are springing up, where landowners have allowed refugees to pitch tents on their land, and there are no services. It was a very cold winter this year in Lebanon, but thankfully it has been warming up.

Over one million people have been registered by UNHCR as refugees outside of Syria. There are hundreds of thousands more who haven't been registered yet. There are about 4 million people affected by the conflict still in Syria. Only one in five schools in Syria are still open.  The scale of the destruction caused by this war is massive, and it will takes years and years to rebuild...which can only happen after an end to the conflict is found.

The organisation I worked for has recently declared this a Category 1 emergency - the highest priority for the whole confederation. For us in the field, that means a whole lot of support and attention can be expected from various HQs around the world, but at this stage, we still have a very limited amount of funding to get assistance to the people in need. And the people in need aren't just refugees, but the communities that are hosting refugees, who are seeing strains on resources and competition for all ready limited jobs. The needs are only going to increase; it is expected that there will be one million refugees in Lebanon by the end of the year - I'm not sure what the projections for Jordan are.

We need to increase the size of our programmes which is a very difficult thing to do when there aren't the funds to do so. We have teams of people working hard to try and raise more money from the public, from governmental donors, from foundations and the private sector. The organisation itself has provided funding from its reserves to get things moving but so much more is needed.

What makes this even more difficult as we are just one organisation; all agencies are struggling to get the funding needed to cover the needs. Coordination between agencies is happening to try and ensure that duplication of services is limited, to make sure the resources are spread out.

I shall end this with a request: if you can afford to donate please do so to the reputable aid agency of your choice. Every little bit helps. Really.

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