Syrian refugee crisis stretching aid effort to limit

Source: Oxfam NZ – Press Release/Statement:

Headline: Syrian refugee crisis stretching aid effort to limit

80 per cent of refugees living outside camps in tented settlements or high-cost rented accommodation

Many Syrian refugees living outside camps across countries in the region are losing out on the help they desperately need, according to five international aid agencies today.

CARE International, Oxfam, Danish Refugee Council, Handicap International and World Vision are increasingly concerned that with more than 1.4 million – 80 per cent of all Syrian refugees – living in tents, temporary settlements, or over-crowded and expensive rented accommodation, the international response is failing to match the scale of the crisis.

Neighbouring countries are struggling to cope with the huge number of refugees. In Lebanon Syrians make up a quarter of the population1 and are living in at least 1200 locations. Just 131,000 of the half a million refugees who fled to Jordan are living in Zaatari camp.  Many refugees, particularly those scattered outside cities across the region, struggle to get information on the support services that are available to them.

The aid agencies say that the international community must massively step up its response to the growing crisis.

“People are living in shopping centres, empty garages or make-shift tents on derelict land. They are struggling to survive on little or nothing, and many are falling through the cracks. With no immediate end in sight to the conflict the problem will only get worse.  The UN describes this as the biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and we need to make sure assistance reaches refugees no matter where they are,” said Oxfam’s Syria Response manager, Colette Fearon.

The aid agencies are calling on donor countries to dig deep and find more money to help them scale up the humanitarian response, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon which are hosting more than a million refugees between them. There is also a growing need to support host communities and governments, where basic services are coming under pressure from increased use.

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At the same time, almost seven million people – a third of the population – are desperately in need of aid inside Syria.

In June the UN launched its largest ever humanitarian appeal for $5bn to support the Syria crisis but has only received 36 per cent of the money required.

Due to the huge number of people fleeing the conflict, refugees are pursuing whatever options they can to find shelter.  Many arrive with just the clothes on their backs and need help to cover basic costs such as food, safe drinking water and a roof over their heads.

Health care has become a luxury that many cannot afford. For people with injuries, the situation is especially critical as the lack of available services often leads to further impairments.  Vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and persons with disabilities or chronic disease, do not have access to essential services, unless they are offered by organisations like Handicap International.

According to World Vision, rents in parts of Lebanon have soared, often by as much as 200 per cent in just a six month period. Though rents are increasing, employment opportunities and pay have not kept pace. In Lebanon where refugees are prohibited from working in many professions, jobs that are available are usually poorly-paid and offer little or no security. While some agencies, including CARE International and Oxfam, are offering cash support to help refugees pay their rent, this is not a long term solution.

 “People left Syria with nothing and are trying to carve out a new life for themselves. But they are starting from scratch and everything is expensive. Many are getting into increasing debt in order to survive,” said Hugh Fenton, Danish Refugee Council Regional Director in North Africa and the Middle East.

“The international response so far has failed to meet the basic needs of the majority of the refugees, putting them at risk of further hardship and suffering. We need donor countries to dig deep and increase funding so aid agencies can expand their relief efforts. With the number of refugees rising and their needs increasing, it is critical the international community do more to fill the funding gap that is preventing us helping more people: failure to do so could be catastrophic.”

The agencies also say fears are mounting of the impact of poor living conditions on refugees’ health. Even amongst those refugees living in rented accommodation, few have access to running water or a separate toilet or bathroom and those living in tents have limited sanitation facilities, increasing the risks of disease particularly given temperatures regularly reach 40C (110F). In Jordan, more than a quarter of refugee households in the Mafraq region have no access to water, while some children living in a tent community in West Balqa could only bathe once every 10 days.

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