Syrian Refugee Crisis: A Firsthand Perspective
It is devastating to see and read about the Syrian refugee families, and I find myself searching constantly for more information, more perspective. Dining for Women’s featured program in January was the Collateral Repair Project (CRP), which helps refugees living in Jordan. Our $37,000 grant is being used to provide psychosocial and wellness programs as well as leadership training for refugee women, many of whom have escaped from the conflict in Syria. I wanted to loop back with CRP to dig a little deeper into the perspective of the refugees and the future.
The following is a Q & A with Amanda Lane, CRP Executive Director, who gives an update on what she is seeing in Jordan. Additionally, I have collected some links to articles that I have found extremely helpful.
- How is this refugee crisis different from other refugee crises?
It is the largest refugee crisis since World War II, so the sheer numbers are daunting. There are over 4 million Syrian refugees in surrounding countries and 2 million displaced Syrians still in Syria.
- What are the most important things we need to know about this crisis?
That families are desperate and living a nightmare. They are forbidden by law to work and cannot provide for their basic needs. International aid has essentially run out for urban refugees, and they are contemplating the very dangerous decision to return to their war-torn country.
- How is CRP being impacted by the influx of refugees in Jordan?
We run on a shoestring so we have to make sure that we’re helping those who need it most. These are the most challenging times we’ve ever experienced, as international aid has run out for urban refugees, and we are now inundated with families who desperately need our assistance. We are trying to scale up our work, but the need is great and the situation has never been so bad.
- Is there any consistency in background among the Syrian refugees you are serving – i.e. professionals, rural, merchants?
In our community, most of the Syrians we see come from a rural background. But there are many professionals among them, as well. In fact, two of our staff were lawyers when they were living in Syria, so there’s quite a range.
The families that we serve do not have the means to get a family member to Turkey (at a cost of around $5,000/person) to attempt to boat to Europe. They are much more vulnerable and are now making the difficult decision to return back to Syria because it is so difficult to make ends meet in Jordan. It’s key to know that all refugees in Jordan are forbidden by law to work, so it is nearly impossible for the families we serve to provide for their families.
- What is the ratio between men, women and children among the refugees you serve?
In the Syrian community, we have more women than children — closer to 55% women. Families have on average 3 children.
- With winter approaching, what is the best way to assist Syrian refugees? What is the greatest need?
Food is always the greatest need in our community, since no one is getting assistance anywhere else and the World Food Program cuts have been so drastic. We prioritize food aid, since not being able to put food on the table is a critical trigger for all kinds of negative coping strategies and exploitation–like a family taking a child out of school to beg on the street. Our food voucher program, which is very similar to the U.S. food stamp program, allows people the dignity and autonomy to shop for what their family needs. It gets food on tables but also helps families in other critical ways.
This time of the year much of our emergency assistance focuses on heating fuel and heaters. Many people don’t know that it gets very cold in winter in Amman and people live in cold and damp stone apartments that get frigid. We provide families with fuel vouchers from a local gas station so they can get fuel when they need it. Both fuel vouchers and food are the most pressing needs during winter, but we also provide blankets, winter clothing, and other basic home needs like mattresses and cook top stoves.
- What can we do that will be most impactful to help women and girls—-support programs, fund projects, advocacy?
Focusing on women’s leadership and girls’ education makes the most sense. Syrian girls are part of the next generation that will have the daunting task of rebuilding Syria. We can’t invest enough in them as they have such an important role ahead of them.
- What are the expected long term effects of the increasing number of refugees on the area?
The numbers of Syrians entering Jordan are not nearly as large as they were a year or two ago. But all the same, the Syrian population in Jordan is huge–1 in every 10 people in Jordan is a refugee. I expect that with time–and it will probably take a very long time–Syrians will be permitted to work in certain sectors in Jordan. It doesn’t appear they will be returning en masse to Syria anytime soon at all. And the numbers of Syrians that other countries are willing to resettle are small to nil. So they will eventually have to be absorbed and allowed to make some kind of living. But I don’t believe this will happen in the coming few years.
- What do Syrians see as a solution for serving the extraordinary number of refugees?
Most Syrian refugees are not thinking about how their huge numbers can be served. They suffer from trauma and associated conditions like PTSD, depression, diabetes and high blood pressure and their inability to make ends meet generally consumes their time. At this point, their main concern is how to provide safety and stability for their children and families.
- What changes need to happen within Syria to create an environment where people can return to their homeland?
There will need to be a stable government and a safe environment, at the very least, for people to be able to return.
- Do Syrian refugees see a link between the drought of 2006-10 and unrest in Syria?
I’m not sure. More than anything, I hear from Syrians that the political situation was untenable under Basshar Al Assad and once the government responded so violently to peaceful protests it became a downward spiral that could not be stopped.
- In addition to CRP, which organizations are successfully serving Syrian refugees on the largest scale?
There are a number of organizations doing great work in Jordan on a larger scale, like the Danish Refugee Council, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mercy Corps and the Norwegian Refugee Council. They are, in many cases, doing large infrastructure projects and work in the refugee camps. It’s important that we all do our part, as Collateral Repair Project is serving hundreds of families who get overlooked by the larger organizations who have a much larger country-wide scope.
- Where is the best place to get reliable information about what is happening with Syrian refugees?
There are a number of good media outlets doing good work. UNHCR gives regular updates on the larger picture. Our social media sites and website also feature many updates and individual stories of the people we’re serving.
Other Resources on the Syrian Refugee Crisis:
http://www.unhcr.org/560e96b56.html – Syrian refugee children get education in Lebanon
http://www.unhcr.org/552fafd29.html UNHCR Syria IN FOCUS
War has forced half of all Syrians from their homes – CNN 9/11/15 http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/11/world/syria-refugee-crisis-when-war-displaces-half-a-country/