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.

Recovering Post-ISIS: What it's like to be a woman in Mayadin, Syria

By Aline Yacoubian, EFSVL Policy Officer, Oxfam in Syria

This is to all men, women and children fighting for survival.

Two years after the ousting of ISIS from Mayadin, east of Deir ez-Zor in Syria, the situation is dire. As I travelled through the town, I couldn’t fail to notice the devastating impact of the conflict. The intense fighting has left it in in total ruin. Among the shattered buildings, destroyed water and electricity infrastructure and broken streets – you can sense life is slowly returning. Hanging laundry lines amid rubble and ash, poorly stocked shops opened in the remains of buildings and children playing with whatever makeshift toys available, from empty tin cans to metal pieces left behind.

Mayadin witnessed a major turn of events as ISIS grasped control over the town in mid-2014, making it their ‘safe haven’ and financial capital. For three years, people in Mayadin lived under ISIS’s rule of terror. Though thousands fled from Mayadin, some people could not escape. I stood in the middle of what once was the second most populous town in Deir Ezzor and sensed the emptiness. Before ISIS, Mayadin was known for its agricultural production, filled with vast acres of fertile, green lands and rich livestock. Located on the western bank of the Euphrates River, Mayadin was once the breadbasket of nearby towns and it thrived on its wealthy agro-economy.

But all that changed under ISIS, particularly for the women there. They were forced to stop school and work. Hawra* is among the many women who was forced to quit school and marry. “I had a real passion for education. I had big dreams of becoming a nurse. Now, I channel that passion into growing our garden’s orange trees. That’s all I have left,” Hawra told me.

Hawra, working on her family’s farmland in Mayadin’s Anneba, rural Deir Ez-Zor. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

The constant fighting under ISIS and continuous bombardments paralyzed the productive economic sectors of Mayadin, with burnt agricultural lands and demolished irrigation channels. Combined with drought, water has become scarce, and safe, clean water has become a commodity. Two years after ISIS, there has been some improvement. Agriculture production is slowly gaining momentum, but the farming communities in the town remain distressed. Mayadin inhabitants are at the brink of food insecurity due to dwindling production, shortage of functional bakeries, and high food prices.

The destroyed waste management systems have further added to the struggle, with serious health concerns on the rise, such as Leishmaniasis, a skin disease caused by a microscopic parasite spread by sand flies, widespread in Mayadin today. Medical facilities are almost non-existent, and access to healthcare has become rather impossible. Khansa, a 34-year old woman shared her story of how expensive healthcare has become as most inhabitants, who must travel to the city of Deir Ezzor, around 40 kilometres, to access medical services. “Travelling to and from Deir Ezzor city costs around 3,000 SYP (approx. USD $3), and the doctors charge around 2,000 SYP for a regular check-up. I don’t have that kind of money, so I only prioritize my son’s doctor visits,” she explained. Khansa used to work on her family’s farmland. Their land was destroyed under ISIS. Today, only a small portion of their land is suitable for farming. “We live off of debts throughout the year and pay them off during the agricultural seasons when we sell our produce,” she continued.

Khansa, 34, stands in her family’s farmland in rural Deir ez-Zor, holding her son. Credit: Dania Kareh/Oxfam

Conversations with women in Mayadin were bittersweet. Bitter to hear what they went through. Sweet to hear how they made it and their willingness to survive. These women are very resilient. “You are probably wondering how I am still smiling. This is what makes me want to fight for life,” said one woman, carrying her 10-day old baby wrapped in wool blankets to protect from the cold.

Despite the hardships, I sensed the women’s urge to rebuild their lives. Though living in Mayadin has become a game of survival, its women have become warriors. Of all the stories heard, the most beautiful are the stories of persistence. You can see it on their faces – these women can turn tides. They don’t give up, they pull through despite everything. They believe in second chances and silver linings.

#9YearsofWar

*Name changed to protect identity.

Cycle of despair: The Syria crisis is far from over

This month marks nine years since the conflict in Syria erupted – and the horrors that its people have suffered in that time are truly unimaginable. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed. Millions of families have been forced to flee. Hundreds of children have been maimed.

Rafik's house inHamourieh/ Eastern Ghouta has been destroyed. Photo: DaniaKareh/Oxfam

Today, more than 6.5 million Syrians are living in poverty, a third of the population doesn’t have enough to eat and 15.5 million people have no access to clean, running water. On average, every second person is unemployed, while poverty and desperation has forced children into child labour and early marriage. Almost 12 million people need humanitarian assistance while close to 6 million are displaced within their own country.

Imm stands at the entrance of her shelter in the Bekaa Valley. Photo:Adrian Hartrick/Oxfam

The conflict also sparked the world’s largest refugee crisis. Around 5.6 million Syrians have fled their homes to seek refuge in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. Right now, refugees are slowly emerging from another harsh winter of snow, rain and freezing temperatures in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. There, they live in makeshift structures with little more than plastic sheeting to protect them from the bitter winter winds.

Despite their desperate living conditions, they have no choice but to stay. After all, the crisis in Syria is far from over. A five-hour drive north from the Bekaa Valley, across Syria’s northwest Idlib region, the UN estimates that a staggering 900,000 people have fled renewed violence since December. As shelling and violence intensifies, this number is rapidly approaching 1 million.

Oxfam is working in Syria, where we have reached more than 1.2 million people with aid including clean water, cash, essential clothing items, and support to help make a living and grow food.

We can’t bring an end to the fighting but we can help to save lives and give hope to those trapped in this ongoing cycle of despair.

Syria Crisis: Support our Appeal

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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

 

Pages