|In Lebanon, meeting more 'hidden' Syrian refugees with urgent needs|
We have an urgent and immediate need (in Marjayoun): within a few days we have to bring them food, clothing and medicine. Otherwise there is a very high risk that the situation will turn into a sanitary and social disaster.
This is the latest report from Chiara Nava with AVSI Lebanon. On February 23, she made her first visit to the refugee camp where thousands of Syrians are living outside the village of Marjayoun in Southern Lebanon, near the border with Israel. “We knew before that, hidden from the main road by a line of trees, there was a settlement of Syrians who for years now have made a home there during the farming season when they come to work in the fields of Lebanon.” said Marco Perini, AVSI Country Representative in Lebanon. "But with the war that has slowly been tearing Syria apart for two years now, everything has changed: the farm workers have started to take in family members fleeing for their lives, and bit by bit the small camp of a dozen tents has become a mix of mud and refugees who now number more than 1,000, most of them women and children.”
The situation is truly dramatic: the families have escaped the showers of bombs in the cities and villages of Homs to make the several-day trek through the refugee-saturated Bekaa Valley, to finally arrive here just a few miles Israel, where they hope to find work when the farming season comes again in a few months. For the moment, they have no resources: nothing to eat, no shelter to protect them from the rain and cold and no health care. The few men present are hardened: they do not want to be photographed, and they shout their anger and their desperate sense of abandonment in the faces of visitors.
“We are meeting with a committee from the camp to see what the priorities are, but already we know that food, medicine and clothing are needed right away,” AVSI Lebanon tells us, adding, “We almost caught off guard, considering the situation, by a request from them to help thirty children to attend the public school in Marjayoun. The main obstacle is the distance from the camp, meaning a bus would need to be rented to take them to school and back home every day.”
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Expanded support for Syrian refugees: helping families stay warm in Jordan
The civil war in Syria continues to have serious repercussions for the surrounding countries, where thousands of families running to escape the conflict are still streaming in. In their home country, all they have left are piles of rubble and dust where their homes once stood, though many have also left family members behind. Across the border, they find long registration lines, limited housing options and the cold of winter. This is the reality of the families AVSI is working with in Jordan.
According to this week’s count from UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), 252,706 Syrian refugees are currently residing in Jordan. With funding from ECHO (European Commission Humanitarian Office), AVSI began a project in December to help 850 families (mostly Syrian refugees) to prepare for winter. Together with local partner Caritas Jordan, AVSI has been distributing Winterization Kits with blankets, heaters and kerosene.
In the larger Jordanian cities of Amman, Mafraq, Irbid and Zarqa, hundreds of Syrian families are staying in rooms rented out by Jordanian families, unfortunately often paying unreasonably high rent for a small space that may be lacking electricity, running water or heat. Those less fortunate are ‘squatting’ in buildings that are abandoned or under construction. Aid arrives for those who decide to register with the UNHCR field offices, but due to the crowds it can take up to 3 months to get an appointment to register. Those who do not officially ask for asylum risk being left completely out of the system of international assistance, and often it takes NGOs like AVSI and Caritas to locate them. For these small organizations whose presence has been stable over the years, it is possible to map out new arrivals and offer support without missing the most vulnerable individuals.
Last week AVSI Jordan was visited by Tamara Qaraien, ECHO Program Officer in Jordan for the Syria crisis, in the process of monitoring distribution centers. The visit took place on February 11 in Mafraq, where AVSI held a distribution of supplies for around 60 families. The ECHO representative visited a family of Syrian refugees in the rural outskirts of the city, which is a little more than 10 miles from the Syrian border. An estimated 1,500 women, children and men fleeing the war enter the city limits each day.
After conversations with some women waiting to receive their winter kits, Ms. Qaraien reported back their message: “We are very worried about the future of our children and of Syria… AVSI and Caritas are the only organizations that are helping us, and we are very happy to receive these supplies. Everything is organized very well and they keep us here where it is warm.”
After the site visits, there was a moment for AVSI and ECHO to discuss possibilities to expand to help more of those affected by the crisis. Ms. Qaraien expressed the need for further interventions, especially to respond quickly to the urgent needs of the most vulnerable people. AVSI has proposed a new phase of action in their support to the Syrian people: to provide hygiene kits, shoes and clothing especially for those who have just arrived in Jordan; including those who have not been registered with UNHCR and for poor Jordanian families who are hosting Syrian families in their apartments.