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.

Syria: As winter draws in, we count the cost of the war

We all get a bit preoccupied with numbers and statistics at this time of year – in the coming weeks, newspapers and talk-show hosts will dissect the average household Christmas spend, some of us will already be counting the days between our final pay packet of 2019 and the first of the New Year, and others will start thinking about their mounting winter heating bills.

In Syria, meanwhile, where winter is also bearing down on communities, people are counting the cost of a brutal eight-year war which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Winters in Syria can be harsh when temperatures plummet and snow and freezing rain strikes. Syrians are very vulnerable to these weather extremes – after all, more than 11.5 million of them – around half of the population – need humanitarian aid, while 6.2 million people have had to flee their homes within Syria, many several times. 

Young refugee
Hassan is among the many children who have had to flee. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

The Syrian conflict is also driving the world’s largest refugee crisis – 5.6 million Syrians have fled their country to seek refuge in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordon, where they are also facing another winter of freezing temperatures. Many are living in flimsy shelters and don’t even have enough clothes to keep them warm.

Harsh winter in refugee camp
Winter is harsh in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley refugee camp. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Refugees face other challenges in their host countries too, where four out of 10 Syrian families don’t have enough food to eat. Just 3 percent of Syrian refugees have been resettled by rich countries, far short of the UN target on 10 percent.

Meanwhile, four out of five Syrians still living Syria are living in poverty, with more than 6.5 million in abject poverty. On average, every second Syrian is unemployed and poverty has forced children into extreme survival measures – such as child labour, early marriage and recruitment into the fighting – to help their families make ends meet. A third of the population don’t have enough to eat and 15.5 million people need clean, running water.

How You Can Help

Please help us provide Winter Survival Boxes which could contain thermal blankets, food vouchers, jerry cans, tarpaulin to insulate their shelter – simple, yet life-saving items.

As the nights start to get colder and more unbearable for Syrian refugees, your gift can’t come soon enough and will help support our emergency responses in places like Syria and where needed the most.

Looking back: Forced to flee Boko Haram and facing hunger

By 2016, thousands of people had died due to hunger and malnutrition and experts said that more than 65,000 people were officially classified as suffering from famine in a desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, one of the poorest places on earth.

Those that experienced the most extreme form of hunger were in pockets of northeast Nigeria, mainly in Borno state, which was only accessible to humanitarian agencies following protracted military action to secure areas formerly under the control of Boko Haram. They were part of a humanitarian crisis largely ignored by the international community, which also affected people in Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

 

Oxfam provided life-saving support in Nigeria, Niger and Chad to people who were forced to flee their homes as well as the already impoverished communities in which they were taking shelter. We provided people with desperately needed food as well as clean drinking water and sanitation to protect their health and prevent the spread of disease. And we also called on donors and governments to act to support humanitarian efforts.

BACKGROUND TO THE CRISIS

The crisis across the Lake Chad basin began about ten years ago as a result of the emergence of the group Boko Haram in Nigeria and military operations against it. Violence escalated further, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation. It forced at least 2.7 million people to flee their homes, including 1.9 million Nigerians alone, and left over 9 million people in need of help.

Unable to grow or buy food, or access humanitarian aid, millions went hungry. In 2016, 3.8 million people across the Lake Chad Basin region as a whole faced severe hunger. Over 20,000 people were killed and thousands of girls and boys were thought to have been abducted. There were alarming levels of sexual violence, violations of international humanitarian law (the law of armed conflict) and human rights law including the forced recruitment of civilians, even children, as combatants.

Fatima Mohammed* (35) from Nigeria’s Borno State was living among the Kabbar Maila host community. Boko Haram forced their way in to her home and cut her husband’s throat in front of her and her children. She  struggled and was not sure where her children’s next meal was coming from. *Name has been changed to protect identity. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

AFRICA'S DISPLACEMENT CRISIS

The Lake Chad Basin crisis represented Africa’s fastest growing displacement crisis and was the seventh largest internally displaced population in the world in 2016. The conflict caused widespread destruction of vital but already limited infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools, roads, markets and farmland.

Across the region, people were on the move to escape threats to their lives, liberty and other human rights in search of safety and protection. From the start of the conflict in 2009 to 2016, more than 20,000 people were killed as a direct result of the violence. In 2015, around one in every 15 people who died throughout the world as a direct result of violent conflict died in Nigeria. Countless more died or faced permanent disability as a result of hunger, disease and a lack of healthcare, the secondary impacts of war.

Children at the government-run Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. It was a camp established by displaced people themselves when they moved into empty unfinished buildings the government was building for government workers. There were also people living in makeshift shelters, especially those who arrived later on. Oxfam provided water, latrines and sanitation in the camp. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

ZAHRA'S STORY

Zarah Isa* (50) was from Borno State in Nigeria. She and her husband were farmers and grew vegetables. She also collected firewood which she would sell and their children used to go to school.

Caption: Zarah Isa* (50) was from Borno State in Nigeria, one of the worst affected regions. She was forced to flee her village during a Boko Haram attack which saw her husband killed. *Name has been changed to protect identity. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

But in 2013, Boko Haram attacked her village and killed her husband. Unable to bury his body, Zarah was forced to flee with her six children. The oldest child was 12, the rest were aged under 10. They spent one month in the forest. To survive, they drank water from open sources such as streams. Often the water was dirty. For food they relied on leftovers from communities they passed along the way, as well as scavenging for food that had been thrown away. It took them one week of walking through the forest on foot to reach the Kabbar Maila host community in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, where they lived for a period in 2016.

Once in Maiduguri, they asked around for people who came from their community. For two weeks, they lived in a makeshift tent with 10 other internally displaced families and then through local community leaders she was able to find accommodation to rent with a local landlord. In 2016, Zarah lived with her children in a crowded room with a leaking roof. She paid her landlord with money her children brought back from begging, but for three months she didn't have enough to cover the rent.

To feed the family, Zarah’s eldest daughter bought sachets of water from a vendor and hawked them on the streets. If her daughter was unable to make money from selling the water, the family went hungry. When this happened, she sent her daughter and some of her other children to beg for money. Zarah was unable to find work as people didn't want to give jobs to someone her age as they were looking for younger people to do menial jobs. The family was barely able to eat two meals a day. Their meal usually consisted of corn flour or maize and they were unable to afford vegetables or meat.

The local host community opened their arms and were very welcoming. They shared the little they had.

Her biggest need was food. When her children went hungry, it caused her pain. Zarah was unable to go back to her village and home because there was a lack of security there. She had heard that people had gone back and been killed. Her hope is to one day return home so that she and her children can grow food on their land and sustain themselves.

Zarah says: “I don’t like seeing my children go hungry, all I want is food. I am ready to go back home today if the government assures us on security, we can farm our food because we have our farms there.”

A child outside a makeshift shelter at the Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria where 13,000 internally displaced families lived after fleeing their homes. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

HOW YOU HELPED

By 2016, Oxfam supported over 250,000 people in Nigeria since we began responding to the crisis in May 2014.

We provided people with desperately needed food as well as clean drinking water and sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.

An Oxfam water tank in the Kabbar Maila community which is hosting displaced people forced to flee their homes. Photo: Ibrahim Dung/Oxfam

We worked in Adamawa, Borno and Gombe states, providing people with emergency food support, clean water and better sanitation, including constructing showers and repairing toilets, and making sure people had areas to wash their hands. We set up community protection groups for women to give them information about access to support facilities if they suffered from sexual violence and exploitation. We distributed food and cooking equipment, as well as provided seeds and tools to help traders and farmers get back on their feet.

In Niger, Oxfam helped over 31,400 people in one year. We installed water systems to make sure people had clean water to drink, as well as distributed essential items such as cooking pots, buckets and water purifying tablets. Elsewhere in Niger, there was massive flooding, and in some regions during the lean season – the time when people are at the end of their food until the next harvest comes – there was desperate hunger.

In 2016, Oxfam responded to the crisis in Chad, with the aim to reach over 30,000 people. We distributed cash and tarpaulins for shelter and provided clean water to people to help prevent the spread of diseases.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

Syria: Preparing for a harsh winter

Last winter, nearly 4,900 families, who have escaped the fighting in Afrin, Syria, received warm winter clothes that helped them face the harsh weather conditions, especially with the little heating they had and the lack of proper attire. Each kit consisted of two adult winter coats and three children-sized. 

Funding for these winter kits came at a time of a great need for some of Syria’s most vulnerable people who have escaped the violence and are still hoping for a better future for both them and their children.

Woman carries a winter survival box
Credit: Islam Mardini/Oxfam

Nazeera* was displaced from Afrin and now struggles to provide food and clothes for her five children. “We lost our home and livelihood when fighting escalated in our hometown, destroying my husband’s shop. It was very difficult for him to find another job and we must now rely on the support of relatives. Our disappointment is only increasing, day by day, as we cannot return home and cannot afford to live here,” Nazeera* tells Oxfam.

Elderly man receives winter box
Credit: Islam Mardini/Oxfam

70-year-old Nezar*, was also displaced from Afrin and now stays with his relatives in Aleppo. His leg was injured, and he cannot walk without crutches – but still he perseveres. “I lost three sons to this war, and now I must support their three little children. My condition does not help, and this means we must rely on handouts for the time being. We live in a shoddy apartment with no reliable electricity, which means scarce heating in the cold winter months. We can’t afford to buy fuel. I really miss my old house and hope to return to it soon,” he tells Oxfam.

How You Can Help

Winter is upon Syrian families who fled for their lives across the border to Lebanon or Jordan. Many of them live in flimsy, improvised shelters.

Please help us provide Winter Survival Boxes which could contain thermal blankets, food vouchers, jerry cans, tarpaulin to insulate their shelter – simple, yet life-saving items.

As the nights start to get colder and more unbearable for Syrian refugees, your gift can’t come soon enough and will help support our emergency responses in places like Syria and where needed the most.

*Name(s) changed to protect identity

 

Oxfam calls for international community urgent action to prevent humanitarian crisis in North-East Syria

Oxfam Ireland launches emergency appeal for North-East Syria

Oxfam is calling for urgent action from the international community to do all in their power to ensure that the humanitarian situation in north-east Syria does not worsen further.

Oxfam Ireland has also now launched an emergency appeal for public donations, following on from the aid agency’s announcement that it is providing new funding for the unfolding and ongoing humanitarian crisis.

Amid news reports of an increasingly chaotic situation and escalating humanitarian concerns following the US withdrawal from north-eastern Syria, and Turkey’s offensive, Oxfam is primarily concerned for the safety, security and rights of the civilians caught in the middle.

Oxfam is calling on all sides to protect civilians, adhere to international humanitarian law and to allow full access to aid.

Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne, recently returned from Syria, said: “As concerns continue to raise for the humanitarian consequences of on-going hostilities, we re-iterate the need for the international community to respond.

“For too long, the conflict in Syria has risked becoming a forgotten crisis and the world can no longer stand idly by. Urgent action is needed to prevent potentially dire consequences for families and children who find themselves once again caught up in deadly violence. All children must be protected and provided humanitarian assistance.

“With an ongoing major crisis in Idlib and huge needs across the country, the aid response in Syria is already stretched to breaking point.

“This latest violence is compounding the suffering of civilians in Syria – nine years after the crisis began. Before this latest escalation in conflict 12 million people needed humanitarian aid and 300,000 have already lost their lives.

“The security situation in the area is already fragile, with tens of thousands of fighters and their families being held in camps and detention centres.

“An estimated 450,000 people live within 3 miles of the Syria-Turkey border and are at risk if all sides do not exercise maximum restraint and prioritize the protection of civilians. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there are at least 1,650,000 people in need of humanitarian assistance in north-east Syria. The population includes more than 90,000 internally displaced people, who have already been forced to flee their homes at least once in Syria’s unrelenting war.

“Oxfam is on the ground, already helping over one million people in Syria with aid including clean water, cash and essential clothing items. Those now forced to flee are facing a winter of dreadful conditions with little means to survive it – they urgently need food, water, clothing, warm blankets, stoves and fuel. As winter approaches and the conflict escalates we urgently need to continue our live-saving work to reach even more women, children and men in desperate need.”

People wishing to support Oxfam’s emergency appeal for Syria can donate online via www.oxfamireland.org/syria-appeal, or through Oxfam Ireland’s network of 47 retail shops across the island. To find the Oxfam shop nearest to you, visit www.oxfamireland.org/shops .

ENDS

Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne, recently returned from Syria, is available for interview. For more information please contact:

Phillip Graham on 00 44 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfam.org

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • In 2018/19, Oxfam in Syria helped over 1.2 million people with aid including clean water, cash, essential clothing items, and support to help make a living and grow nutritious food. In Lebanon and Jordan, Oxfam has to date helped some 300,000 people affected by the Syria crisis.

Omar* (27 years old), Fatima* and their 2-year-old son. Photo Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Refugees deserve to rebuild their lives

They have lost so much, the millions of people who have been forced to flee due to war and natural disasters.

They have lost their homes. They have lost their loved ones. They have lost their livelihoods.

But their hopes and dreams can never be lost.

On World Refugee Day, we meet just three of the 70.8 million people displaced around the world and pay tribute to their determination and creativity.

In Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, 12-year-old Muna* from Eastern Ghouta, Syria, is taking part in an art project run by Oxfam.

Muna*, who wants to become a fashion designer, engineer or journalist, can’t remember much about her life in Syria because she was just six years old when she and her family had to flee.

 

“I didn’t go to school in Syria; it was the beginning of the war and there was a lot of bombings,” she says.

Despite the trauma she has already experienced in her short life, Muna* is full of confidence and hope for the future.

“If you have a dream don’t give it up, it is nice to have a dream and work towards achieving it,” she says. “We as kids need to draw our dreams with our hands so we can achieve them one day.”

 

When Mosees, Christine and their three children were threatened with a weapon one night, they fled their home in Juba, South Sudan, and made their way to Impevi camp in Uganda.

Despite only being residents of the camp for a few months, they have already built their own house. Christine (24), who is a member of a group called Ask & Try, was also trained by Oxfam on how to make eco-stoves from clay, which must be moulded to a fixed shape so that they burn briquettes properly.

Christine, who has perfected the art, also made her own stove: “I light it in the morning and if it burns well it will do it all day. I don't have to look for firewood anymore and that saves a lot of time and stress, because it is not safe to leave the camp.”

Although she would like to go home to South Sudan someday, she will only do so if the violence ends.  In the meantime, Christine says: “We will stay here, and we can build a good life.”

Meanwhile, in Zambia’s Kenani refugee camp, Falia loves hairdressing and happily spends her days braiding, weaving and cutting the residents’ hair. She used to have a hair salon in the Democratic Republic of Congo before the conflict forced her to flee with her husband and three children.

 

“We left because we saw people breaking into people’s homes, killing people and stealing stuff – we realised it was time to go,” she says. “I was scared of getting killed. I have lost too many people in this war.”

Falia is part of Oxfam’s livelihoods programme and received tools and equipment to open a salon in the camp. Unfortunately, heavy rains destroyed the salon, but she continues to work under a tree.

“The salon is important because some people come to rest and relax, even if they are not having their hair done and others come to forget their problems or to learn how to do hair,” she says. “I just want to keep being a hairdresser and I want to grow. I want my children to be able to go to school and have a better life, I want to keep working in the salon so that everything is great.”

Oxfam is working in refugee camps around the world, providing life-saving aid such as clean water, sanitation and food to those who have been forced to flee.

We also help to protect refugees from violence and abuse, ensure they understand their rights and give them access to free legal aid.

 

*Name changed to protect identity

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