Syria & Refugee Crisis

  • Every three seconds, someone flees their home because of violence, poverty or disaster. Millions of refugees – many of them children - are trying to survive on the move. Oxfam is working tirelessly to give vital support to those who’ve lost everything.

WORLD REFUGEE DAY 2018

Today, almost 45,000 people will be forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. But there is nothing unusual about today – the same thing will happen tomorrow and every day after that.

There is no end in sight to this unprecedented displacement, and unless global political leaders take action, this is a tragedy that will continue to unfold.

To mark World Refugee Day, we meet just some of the 68.5 million refugees and displaced people forced to leave their homes – and the life they once knew – behind.

 

Nur* (35) with her youngest child Sikander* (2) outside their shelter in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo: Kelsey-Rae Taylor/Oxfam

In Bangladesh, Nur* and her children live in a makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazar. They were forced to flee the violence in Myanmar, which claimed the life of Nur’s husband.

“We had to struggle such a lot for four nights and five days on our way over here,” said Nur*. “We had to starve for four days. We had to crawl over hills.

“My shoulder swelled up to my neck as I had to carry my baby by fastening him with a rope. If he fell, I knew I’d lose him.

“Our tears dried up, we lost our hunger. We had to go through such traumatic circumstances to reach safety.  

“We could not sleep in Myanmar because we were afraid but we can sleep well here in the camp. There, we could not sleep, we were always tense. But here we don’t have that sort of fear.”

Ikhlas and Ali sit with their son Muhamed* inside their container at the Filippiada camp in Greece. Photo: Andy Aitchison/Oxfam

Meanwhile, Ali and Ikhlas and their young son Muhamed* are trying to adjust to their new life after fleeing the war in Syria.

The young family is currently living in a camp on the Greek island of Lesvos after being saved by the coast guard. They had been en route to Italy when the sea conditions deteriorated. “We were at sea on a boat with another 47 people,” said Ali (30). “The sea got very rough. It was terrifying. My wife and my little boy were with me and I cannot swim.

“Thankfully the Greek navy came and helped us… I was looking at my phone every minute, hoping it would end. The whole thing lasted 55 minutes. I still have nightmares because of it.”

Back in Syria, Ali was a farmer and had his own livestock. But he said: “Because of the bombings, we had to leave everything behind. I have seven brothers; only one of them is still in Syria, while the other six are in Germany. We would like to join them and start a new life away from bombs and violence.”

Dieudonné* was forced to flee his home with his wife and four children. Photo: John Wessels/Oxfam

Elsewhere, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dieudonné* describes how he and his family were attacked by their neighbours from a nearby village. Seven people were killed during the violence, forcing the father of four and his family to seek refuge in a camp miles from home.

“When we fled, we would sleep during the day in the bush and carry on the journey at night,” he said. “We had to walk all night because we feared they would spot us and arrest us.”

Dieudonné* said the attackers set fire to his house and his livestock, adding: “That’s all the wealth I had. Now I am left with nothing.”

Oxfam is working in refugee camps worldwide, providing life-saving aid including clean water, sanitation and food to those who have been forced to flee. In addition, we help to protect refugees from violence and abuse, ensure they understand their rights and give them access to free legal aid.

*Names changed

For those who have fled Eastern Ghouta, life now comes with different challenges

by Matthew Hemsley
 
An Oxfam staff member helps a child fill a water bottle from a tank in Herjalleh collective shelter.  Oxfam has been trucking clean water to the site, for the 14,000 Syrians displaced from Eastern Ghouta who are living there. Photo Credit: Dania Kareh
 
Queueing from dawn until mid-afternoon for the chance of a hot meal, living eight people to a small tent, stagnant dirty water risking waterborne diseases as the temperature rises, and a shortage of clean water for washing, eating and cooking… These are just some of the issues raised with me by Syrians forced to flee eastern Ghouta, now living in a collective shelter in Herjalleh, rural Damascus - home to over 14,000 Syrians living either in rooms in small apartment blocks, other living outside the buildings in tents.
 
While the shelter is not as busy as it used to be, with relatives of some women and older men in the shelter able to sponsor them to leave, those running the humanitarian response worry that more families from Douma will soon arrive.
 
One official said, "there could be 20,000 more people coming and the sanitation is already overflowing, it needs to be fixed."
 
Living conditions are already crowded. For those living in apartment blocks, seven to eight sometimes must share a room. Parents and their children too. For people living in tents, it's harder. I spoke to one family of eight living in a small tent.
 
"When we moved here, we lived in the open. Now we have this tarpaulin sheet. We don't know how long we will have to stay here like this. Our homes in Ghouta were destroyed."
 
One family told me they left Ghouta with just the clothes on their backs. They previously kept sheep, but had to leave their livestock, and their livelihood, behind. They have no savings.
 
It's tough for people living out here, and what little money they do have - some offered by relatives trying to help - just doesn't stretch that far.
 
There are shops in the shelter, selling vegetables and other goods, but though the prices are cheaper than they were in Ghouta, it is difficult for people with so little to afford what they need.
 
Warm meals are available, but people must wait in line, sometimes for hours at a time, to get their fair share. This is their everyday life.
 
Maintaining good hygiene is another challenge. A poor drainage and sanitation system means there is dirty water across the shelter, which increases health risks for the people who live here as the days get hotter, and as clean water becomes scarcer. Safety is a concern as well, and for many a simple trip to the installed showers and toilet blocks is a dangerous endeavour during the night hours.
 
But humanitarian agencies are helping improve conditions for civilians. Oxfam is providing clean water by truck to the communal water tower, the kitchen, and directly into tanks serving the apartment blocks. Tap stands are connected to other water sources making clean water available to those who need it. Other agencies, including the UN, are helping too. But more funding is desperately needed. Repairing a sanitation network that is overflowing, for example, doesn't come cheap - but it is lifechanging for the those living here, as well as for the community living in the nearby town.
 
For many people now in Herjalleh, the future looks uncertain. Many say their homes in Ghouta have been destroyed, their livelihoods lost. They have nowhere to go and want to remain in the shelter where at least there is some access to goods and services. Others have no way of knowing what is it that they've lost. But most hope to return to their homes someday. Whether that is a possibility or not remains to be seen.

Dear EU Leaders: Look at me

By Amal, Moria hotspot, Lesvos, Greece

 

Dear EU Leaders,

Spring has arrived- warming our bodies and our hearts. However, the refugee camp of Moria on the Greek Island of Lesvos, is still cold and prison-like. I have been in Moria for seven months now since I arrived in Europe, and there is only one thing I can be certain of is that I will be stuck here for a long time. I have requested asylum in Europe, but the next hearing for my case is 18 months away.

I invite all European politicians to visit us, to witness our hardship, and to see what life is like when your fate is in the hands of others – in your hands. Your hands are not tied – more humane migration policies can help us and give people here the protection, support and dignity they need and deserve. We need to #OpenTheIslands.

The EU-Turkey deal

My story is similar to those of millions of refugees from Syria and other countries. Conflict and persecution has torn our families apart, we had to leave our belongings behind, and our beautiful cities are no longer recognizable. We fled to survive and when we reached safety in Greece we were stopped and told to wait in inhumane conditions. That waiting has become living. While asylum seekers like me are waiting for their cases to be heard, our future is slipping away.

I am – we all are – trapped on Lesvos following the EU’s deal with Turkey, which was struck two years ago, in March 2016. As a direct result of the deal, Greece forces asylum seekers to stay on the island instead of being able to request asylum on the mainland or elsewhere in Europe.

The EU-Turkey deal has one main goal: to stop people from seeking asylum in Europe. But the effects of this deal on these people have been overlooked. They overlook the fact that a handful of bathrooms cannot be shared by the thousands who are forced to live in tents. That women and children face a real risk of sexual violence, abuse and harassment when they live in these overcrowded camps.

Lesvos, where Moria is, is a beautiful Greek island, but the camp is hell.

Being a refugee is not a choice

Every day I dream of going back home. But the place I call home is in ruins. When I think of home I think of my daily routine of working in a hospital in the morning and teaching English in the afternoon; I think of picnics in the park with my family over the weekends. Or just walking around Damascus, where I was born and raised.

Being a refugee is not a choice. I am stuck in Lesvos because I left my home when it became unsafe due to years of war.

If politicians came to visit Moria, I would ask them why they believe in policies that lead to overcrowded camps and insecurity for women and children. If European leaders came to visit Moria, I would ask them if they really think Moria is a place for people like me, like them. I would tell them that they have a responsibility to go home and remember us, remember what they see in Moria. I would ask them to let me rebuild my life.

Please send a tweet to Greek Prime Minister Tsipras and European leaders asking them to #OpenTheIslands

Dear EU Leaders: Look at me - Amal's Story

How can we go back to a Syria that no longer exists?

Authored by Shaheen Chughtai, Head of Campaigns, Policy & Communications, Oxfam Syria Crisis Response

Seven long years after the Syria crisis began, the situation remains bleak. Individual children, women and men continue to bear the brunt of a conflict marked by enormous human suffering, relentless destruction and a blatant disregard for human rights.

The harrowing news from Eastern Ghouta – the scene of intensified fighting in Syria’s brutal conflict – has pushed the war into the headlines again. Recent fighting in other areas, including Afrin, Idlib and Deir Ez-Zor continues to claim lives and leave families in desperate need of aid. During this protracted crisis, the broken lives of Syria’s women, men and children have too often been ignored.

Left: Hani*, 16, was displaced from East Ghouta in 2013, and now lives in a tent with his family of 8 in Herjalleh, Rural Damascus. Photo: Dania Kareh / Oxfam. Right: Wael* and Husam* return back from their daily journey to collect drinking water for their family from a nearby water fountain, Herjalleh.

While making a film about Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan for Oxfam, I was truly humbled by the courage and resilience of the people I met. However, many are only just surviving amid harsh conditions.

One mother from Homs, Jawaher, told me: “Our houses are gone, how can I go back to something which doesn’t exist anymore?” Their homes in Syrian cities and towns continue to be pummelled into rubble, or are now occupied by strangers.

After seven years of conflict, the statistics are horrifying: at least 400,000 Syrians have been killed and over 13 million are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, including nearly three million people trapped in besieged and hard to reach areas, such as Eastern Ghouta. More than half of the population – nearly 12 million people – have fled from their homes, many of them several times. More than 5.6 million refugees are living in neighbouring countries, the majority in extreme poverty.

Jawaher, the refugee in Jordan who I interviewed for the film, told me her son had returned recently to Syria. From Idlib, he sends her text messages telling her the situation “is bad, very bad”. He has no heating despite the low temperatures and no aid has reached him yet. Aid agencies say they still cannot reach many people who need help.

Some aid does get through despite the challenges. Over the last year, Oxfam has helped an estimated two million people in Syria as well as refugees and the communities in which they are sheltering in Jordan and Lebanon. This has included providing safe drinking water, sanitation and vital food aid as well as helping refugees make a living.

Being a Syrian refugee is difficult, even if you manage to escape from Syria. Everyone who lives in the Jordanian capital, Amman, knows only too well about its high cost of living. Imagine being a Syrian refugee who needs to live, to eat, and to care for their children there. Despite efforts by the Jordanian authorities, many refugees – as well as members of the overstretched communities hosting them – are still unable to find work and rely on limited aid. This means the reality for many Syrian refugees, particularly the women in the region, is a life without meaningful work. What a terrible waste of talent.

Left: Ahmed, 34, a husband and a father of three children, is one of those who fled their homes fearing for their lives. Photo: Dania Kareh / Oxfam. Right: Layla, 35, is a mother of six little children. Her husband has been missing for about two years. Photo: Dania Kareh / Oxfam

One Syrian young refugee in Za’atari told us she is creating her own luck, developing her writing skills as a reporter for a magazine on the camp. Now 20, Abeer hopes she will return to Syria one day and she has made it her goal to give something back to her country because of the way ‘it has suffered and sacrificed’. She longs to write a story of Syrians rebuilding their country and starting over again. But how much longer will this conflict continue and at what cost? The international community has provided billions of dollars and euros in aid to the region in recent years. That welcome aid has helped to keep millions of Syrian refugees alive and alleviated their suffering – but it has not kept pace with the sheer scale of human need.

The continued violence, bloodshed and suffering in Syria represents a catastrophic failure by the international community. Attempts to reduce civilian loss of life and provide humanitarian aid to people trapped by the fighting have been repeatedly undermined by military operations.

Time is long overdue for world leaders to do more to protect and assist civilians and prioritise a political solution to the conflict. The people of Syria deserve no less.

See also our video ZA'ATARI: THE REFUGEE REPORTER

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

Bombing in Syria

The indiscriminate bombing of the besieged Syrian enclave of eastern Ghouta and neighbouring Damascus in recent days has shocked the world.

Dozens of children have been killed and homes destroyed in relentless airstrikes, and there is no end in sight to the conflict.

(Left) Children play games at an Oxfam hygiene promotion campaign at Dahyet Qudsaya shelter. Photo: Oxfam (Right) A group of children wash their hands as part of an Oxfam hygiene promotion campaign at Dahyet Qudsaya shelter in rural Damascus. Photo: Oxfam

Despite the seemingly hopeless situation, Oxfam has been working hard to help parents and children who have managed to flee the violence.

One of those children was 11-year-old Kareem. His family fled their home in eastern Ghouta, before the recent outbreak of violence, and went to rural Damascus in search of safety. Now they live in a shelter with more than 1,000 people who have also been displaced.

Kareem misses being a little boy and the friends he had before the conflict – which is now in its seventh year – turned his life upside down.

“I used to go to school every day and meet my beloved friends,” he said. “I miss playing with my friends on the way back from school, I miss my home, my belongings and I miss watching cartoons after finishing my homework."

Oxfam has been working in Kareem’s shelter, helping to prevent disease by promoting good hygiene practices. We also distributed hygiene kits to all of the children living there.

We are on the ground in Syria providing clean, safe drinking water and hygiene kits to children like Kareem, while we continue to provide water and sanitation to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

But the scale of this emergency is huge and we still urgently need your help.

Thank you.

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