Through its home visits team, JRS Jordan provided emergency relief to 277 Syrian families in the capital, Amman, and 300 Syrian families in the northern border city of Irbid between October and December last year. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
(Beirut) February 12, 2013 — On a recent visit to Beirut, Fr. Nawras Sammour S.J. delivered somber news regarding the rapidly deteriorating system in Damascus.
"It's almost as bad as Aleppo. I fear the humanitarian situation will be worse," said the Jesuit Refugee Service Middle East and North Africa Director.
Thousands of people are being continuously displaced and in search of shelter because of intense fighting and destruction of the suburbs of Damascus.
"As many as 15 people are being forced to live in one room," explained Fr. Nawras.
JRS provides emergency support to 2,000 families residing in the Damascus area (equally broken down between the city and outlying suburbs), many of whom have come from the surrounding countryside and cities, such as Homs, in western Syria.
In addition to shelter shortages, food is also a high priority. Shortages of flour, yeast, grain and fuel that make up the daily staple in Syria – bread – is hard to come by, and when available it is costly. In January, JRS delivered 3,000 food baskets to families in Damascus, Aleppo and Homs.
Aleppo. Moreover, last month JRS in Aleppo also provided an average of 13,000 hot meals a day to people in public shelters from a field kitchen, but bread is still in short supply.
"A kilogram of bread in Aleppo costs between 150 and 225 Syrian pounds ($2 - $3), the most expensive in the country; ten times the pre-conflict price," confirmed Hadi*, a JRS staff member in Aleppo.
Due to the scarcity of raw materials and the difficulties in delivering food aid to those in need because of fighting, bread has also become a luxury in Aleppo; all this in a country where more than half the population relies on bread as a significant part of their daily diet. Compounding the humanitarian crisis are cases of life saving aid being diverted or confiscated by armed groups for their own use.
However, it is not only emergency assistance that is of vital importance.
"We're also here to listen to those for whom nobody has time, and to ensure children have a quiet place where they can spend a few hours. People feel abandoned by everyone. It's also important to address these issues," added Fr Nawras.
Winter hardship. Last month, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) warned that further storms are expected, possibly worse than one in early January which brought heavy rainfall, flooding and snow. Many internally displaced Syrians and refugees lack adequate winter clothing for such low temperatures and/ or wet conditions.
JRS emergency winter relief, both within and beyond Syria, comprises thick blankets, mattresses, winter clothing, portable stoves and, where possible, heaters, to help families survive the cold. However, this assistance is insufficient to deal with the massive demand.
Worrying influx of refugees to Jordan. Through its home visits team, JRS Jordan provided emergency relief to 277 Syrian families in the capital, Amman, and 300 Syrian families in the northern border city of Irbid between October and December last year. This included the provision of emergency rent assistance, as well as blankets to help families survive the bitterly cold Jordanian winter. In total, more than 850 blankets were distributed and rent assistance was provided to the value of approximately 41,000 euro.
Reports state that more than 3,000 Syrians are fleeing across the borders on a daily basis, leaving aid agencies and local organizations overwhelmed. In the face of the rising number of arriving refugees, JRS assistance is again but a drop in the proverbial ocean.
"Last week on one day alone 3,581 Syrians entered into Jordan. The humanitarian community around here is highly concerned about this level of influx," said JRS Jordan Director Colin Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert will visit the U.S. next month to discuss the JRS response to the crisis.
Struggling to cope. In Lebanon, where more than 250,000 refugees are registered, the need for emergency relief assistance is great and increasing. Many local communities are supporting Syrian families as best as they can, but many host communities struggle to make ends meet themselves. In Kafar Zabad, a village in the remote northeastern Bekaa Valley in Lebanon where JRS is assisting Syrian families, the situation is dire.
"The community is very poor in Kafar Zabad, it's difficult for them to survive without having to support Syrian families. But they have responded generously and offered us their local municipal hall as a venue for activities," said Jad Jabbour S.J., JRS project director in Lebanon.
Najib Mikati, the Prime Minister of Lebanon, appealed to the international community in late January to assist the country with urgent aid in order to cope with the increasing number of Syrians. If the UNHCR forecast of a total 500,000 registered refugees in Lebanon by June turns out to be accurate, it would represent 12.5% of the Lebanese population.
The JRS project in Lebanon has been serving the needs of 350 families in the Bekaa valley and in Beirut, but every day more people are arriving in need of assistance.
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by Zerene Haddad
JRS Middle East and North Africa Communications Officer