Syria and 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.

Syrians need support both to deal with the devastation of the earthquake and to recover from the impacts of 12 years of conflict.

Almost three-quarters of displaced Syrians surveyed in Aleppo say they are having to skip a meal every day since the earthquake

Three in every four people in Aleppo have had to reduce daily meals since the earthquake and near all of them say they have taken on extra debt or their children out of school in order to cope, says Oxfam.

Oxfam surveyed 300 people displaced in Aleppo, and living in collective shelters, in the lead-up to Ramadan. It found that many have nothing left after the earthquake and from the effects of 12 years of conflict.

Many told Oxfam they had used up their last resources. 90% of them say there are unable to make any plans to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan. Across the entire country, four in ten Syrians – or nearly 9 million people – were affected by the 7.7 magnitude earthquake that hit last month, compounding an already acute humanitarian crisis.

Nearly 70 per cent of those surveyed said their homes had been partially destroyed. More than 65 per cent said they were relying on aid from NGOs to survive. Twenty-two per cent had lost their jobs or sources of income and 37 had borrowed money to cover their families’ needs.

Moutaz Adham, Oxfam Syria country director said: “people who have been made homeless by the quake have been forced to rely on harsh coping mechanisms to survive and they will face a tough and uncertain Ramadan.  

“The data is stark and gravely concerning. People told us the earthquake has pushed them over the edge.  For almost all families we talked to, this was at least the second time they had been forced out of their homes over the years of conflict. Almost half of them are now spending the vast majority of their income on food, leaving very little to cover all their other basic needs.

“Syrians have faced too many shocks for too long. It will be months, even years, before those who have lost everything after this latest disaster can rebuild their lives,” said Adham.

Jaydaa, from Aleppo, told Oxfam: “Before the quake, we only got to eat one meal a day, but at least we had a roof over our heads. Now we are left behind in a small tent to fend for ourselves against hunger and freezing temperatures at night.”   

“Either from fleeing the conflict, the impacts of the earthquake or both, Syrians just want to live with dignity and look towards a future with hope. This earthquake, on top of 12 years of war, has devastated millions of people who were already having to live a hand-to-mouth existence,” said Adham.

Oxfam delivered clean drinking water to 46 locations and installed 40 water tanks in shelters. we distributed over 2,250 hygiene kits including soap and sanitary pads. We are also fixing taps and toilets in shelters and supporting safety checks to buildings.

“Syrians need support both to deal with the immediate devastation of the earthquake and to recover from the impacts of 12 years of conflict. We cannot allow Syrians to face another Ramadan like this,” he said.

Syrians are going hungry. Help Now

Worn down by a decade of conflict and now soaring food prices, Syrian families are in the grip of hunger.

Help Now

Almost ten years of war and now COVID. Syrians fear the worst.

Najwa (48), who lost her son to war and now raises his three children, stands in her partially damaged kitchen in Harasta, Eastern Ghouta/ Rural Damascus.

By Dania Kareh, Oxfam in Syria Media and Communications Officer

It was my first visit to the outskirts of Damascus since the country went into lockdown to contain the potential spread of the coronavirus. As our car moved closer to Harasta – a town to the northeast of the city – life seemed perfectly normal from afar. However, in the midst of a pandemic, things are often not what they seem. For millions around the world who’ve been trapped at home by COVID-19, it’s been a deeply unusual time. But when you’ve lived through over nine years of war, even the deadliest of diseases seems like just another detail. 

In March, when the first infection was reported, a curfew was imposed, borders were closed and travel was restricted between different parts of the country. Only essential shops were allowed to conduct business: shops selling medicine and food. By mid-May, however, many restrictions were lifted with no telling as to what might happen.  

As I walked through Harasta’s markets, I saw crowded food shops and street vendors spreading their goods on the pavements, forcing people to walk in the streets.  There was no evidence of anyone attempting to socially distance. It was as crowded as ever.

I met Najwa who lives in Harasta with her family of five. She lost her son in the war and now raises his three little children, relying solely on relatives’ handouts. “We survived the constant fighting, we survived a mortar that hit our building and destroyed our kitchen, we survived the lack of food and water, we survived the long months we had to spend under besiegement when many basic items were not available. At some point bread, sugar and tea were a dream to get. Don’t you think we will survive this virus?” she asked me. Her demeanour cynical. 

Livelihoods gravely affected

While all over the world there are coronavirus related job losses, it’s much, much worse for this war-torn nation and its people, who have been suffering for almost a decade. A crisis within a crisis. As a result of the lockdown, many people, who already live hand-to-mouth, have been unable to make a living. To add insult to injury, prices continue to dramatically increase, making it almost impossible for vulnerable people, who have no alternative resources, to survive the pandemic.

When the first case was announced in Syria, people rushed to stock up on food amid fears that authorities will impose strict measures, but not Najwa’s family.

We didn’t even bother to think about storing food since we barely afford our daily bread. We might not die of the virus, but we will definitely die of empty stomachs.

~ Najwa

A race against time

The curfew meant people only had a limited set of hours where they could purchase essential items. As a result, queues became a daily scene around the country, especially in front of bakeries. What was once readily available everywhere at an affordable price became a rarity. “Bread has become a luxury we can’t afford. You should see the congestion around distribution cars. It’s terrible,” said Najwa.

“This has pushed many women to make bread in their houses, relying on primitive ovens. I cannot afford to buy fuel for the oven. I’m using pieces of fabric and clothes instead. You have to be innovative in such a crisis,” Najwa added.

Najwa making bread in her home

A long battle ahead

In a country with an exhausted economy and decimated healthcare facilities, it’s not only about fighting the virus itself but about withstanding its aftershocks. Oxfam, in collaboration with local partner Syrian Society for Social Development (SSSD), is continuously stepping up efforts to support vulnerable families by providing soaps and cleaning materials, to help people maintain good hygiene practices. We are also increasing the supply of clean water, as well as distributing cash assistance to help people and families struggling to put food on the table.

No one really knows when the pandemic will be over, but what we do know is that it can engulf entire communities. People must get the help they need. It could literally mean life or death to many vulnerable communities in Syria.

Photos: Dania Kareh/ Oxfam