It is difficult not to feel overwhelmed in the face of the crisis that has engulfed Syria and spilt across its borders. With no end to the fighting in sight and spiraling humanitarian needs across the region, governments meeting in Kuwait this week to discuss the humanitarian response are unlikely to be arriving full of optimism. But the funds they pledge will have a real impact on increasingly vulnerable people’s lives and donors need to come together to send a clear signal to the people of Syria: “we will not abandon you.”
We have already seen cuts to vital humanitarian assistance resulting from a significant funding shortfall - last year’s UN and Red Cross appeals to help those in need were only 62.5% funded by the end of 2014.
The cuts have stung people like Abu Ali and Um Ali who fled Syria in 2012 and live with their children in a make-shift settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. "Without World Food Programme vouchers, we couldn’t have survived all this time,” Abu Ali told us, “but one day, we received an SMS telling us that we won't get food anymore. The same thing happened with fuel vouchers. In our settlement, only 3 families received one this winter, while we all did in 2013."
Eighteen million people are now in urgent need of assistance – a staggering number, including families across Syria, refugees forced to leave everything behind as well as the poorest people in Syria’s neighbouring countries who have been pushed further below the poverty line by the crisis. Eighteen million people who need the equivalent of a little over a dollar a day to keep going. To date, less than 10c of every dollar needed has been committed to 2015 humanitarian appeals, so there is a long way to go. This is the absolute minimum that the international community must ensure this year, while putting their backs into efforts to resolve the conflict and avoid a yawning future of further suffering.
Donors need to find a way to dig deeper than last year as more and more people are lacking real basics like food, water and adequate shelter while infrastructure, healthcare and education services across the region are showing signs of extreme strain.
The greatest burden of responding to the crisis has fallen on the countries neighbouring Syria – such as Lebanon, where refugees equating to nearly 30% of the country’s population are seeking sanctuary. Many much wealthier countries have failed to step up and provide sufficient help - this is clearly unfair.
Oxfam's Syria Crisis Fair Share Analysis
At Oxfam, we’ve tried to come up with a way of measuring what an “equitable” share of the humanitarian response would look like for the world’s wealthy donor states, based on the size of their economies. In 2014, nearly half of the top donors gave well below their “fair share” including including Russia (7%), Australia (28%) and Japan (29%). In contrast, Kuwait, the host of the donor conference, gave 1107% of their share. So far this year, the UK is the only government to have given their fair share for 2015.
Several states have led the way in providing not only their fair share of aid last year, but also pledging significant numbers of places for resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission for the most vulnerable refugees from Syria whose needs cannot be met in the region. Germany, Norway, Canada, Sweden and Switzerland all committed to delivering their fair share of both aid and resettlement.
The people that Oxfam works with across Jordan, Lebanon and in Syria do not want to rely on hand-outs. But with extremely limited opportunities to work, many have no other option.
In neighbouring countries, decreasing aid is also coupled with the impact of restrictive government policies that have been introduced under the pressure of the crisis, including the withdrawal of access to free healthcare in Jordan and expensive visa renewals in Lebanon that most families can ill-afford, with no option to quickly cross back into Syria to renew their visas given new restrictions at the border. Unless the international community can come together to turn things around, it is inevitable that more people are going to be left with increasingly ugly choices in a bid for survival such as early marriage, sending their children out to work in informal markets or making a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean in search of safety.
Fears are certainly growing. Emad, a refugee from Damascus now living in Jordan told my colleagues: “We Syrians are scared to work because if you’re caught they will send you back to Syria without letting you either call anyone or take anything with you. The first time, they will make you sign a document promising you won’t do it again, and the second time, you’re out.”
Governments need to put their heads together with international organisations and come up with new approaches to ensure that their support is sustainable.
Returning refugees to Syria is absolutely not an option as the unpredictable conflict continues to rage. Creativity is going to be needed to design livelihood options that allow both vulnerable host communities and refugees to find ways to better support themselves; we need to see greater involvement of development actors and funding for infrastructural improvements in host countries and support for education and health sectors.
A lifeline through resettlement will be essential for the most vulnerable refugees – Oxfam has called for the most vulnerable 5% registered in neighbouring countries to be resettled by the end of 2015 - but governments should also look at extending temporary work visa and education programmes to people fleeing Syria as well. The world is currently failing to curb the conflict in Syria; it must not abandon those whose lives have already been ripped apart as well.
This entry posted by Camilla Jelbart Mosse, Syria campaign manager, Oxfam, on 30 March 2015.
Top: Emad and his family of 7 fled their comfortable Damascus home and fled to Jordan in September 2102. Credit: Khalid Said/Oxfam
Middle: Abu Ali and Um Ali fled Syria in 2012, now live with their children in a make-shift settlement in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Credit: Yasmine Chawaf/Oxfam
Bottom: Samia*, 60, from Aleppo, fled the war in Syria with her husband. This was her second winter in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley. Credit: Yasmine Chawaf/Oxfam
*Names have been changed.