15 March 2013

No end in sight to conflict in Syria

15/03/2013 - Two years after the conflict in Syria first began there are still no signs of peace. An average of 5,000 people flee the country every day: the UNHCR reports over a million people who have fled to neighbouring countries and countries in Northern Africa so far, half of them children. In Syria itself there are more than two million displaced persons. Syria and those countries who take in refugees are confronted by an enormous humanitarian catastrophe which could destabilise the entire region.

Photo: Virginie Nguyen Hoang
Destroyed houses in the village Ala Oeeja, Northern Aleppo © Virginie Nguyen Hoang
Like with many other NGOs, Children's Villages' integrity is its commitment to impartiality and the dedication to the humanitarian imperative. In the framework of our response to the emergency in Syria we are providing life-saving support to the most vulnerable internally displaced families in three different geographical areas.

Our greatest concern is for the many children who become the direct victims of violence and witnesses of atrocities and are extremely traumatised, who are driven from their homes, who have to leave their native country. Those children cannot attend school regularly because their schools are either destroyed or turned into shelters for the internally displaced people. They also have little to no access to medical care since almost one third of public hospitals in Syria has been destroyed, damaged or shut down. These are the children who currently have little chance for a better tomorrow unless we act and intervene to change this, give them a hope to have a future.

Rasha Muhrez, coordinator of the emergency aid of SOS Children's Villages in Syria says: "Our sole mission is to look after displaced families. We make sure that we run emergency relief on neutral soil where people can come without fear. Most of them simply want their old lives back."

Photo: Virginie Nguyen Hoang
Many are fleeing, but many also stay because life in the refugee camps is harsh (boys from Aleppo district) © Virginie Nguyen Hoang
SOS Children's Villages has been active in Syria as a national organisation since 1980 and runs childcare projects and family programmes in Aleppo and Damascus. In September 2012 all SOS families had to be moved from Aleppo to Damascus because the security situation was becoming increasingly difficult. The staff in Syria are doing their best within the prevailing conditions of civil war to protect children and young people and to provide families who were already receiving support before the conflict with the essentials.

Every NGO operating in Syria has to negotiate an agreement with the government or the relevant authorities, defining the precise operational area and the type of support. If the NGO wishes to expand its assistance, the agreement has to be amended accordingly in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour. In February, after months of effort, SOS Children's Villages was granted a permission to provide direct emergency relief for the most vulnerable ones.

Prior to this SOS Children's Villages was only able to provide humanitarian aid with the assistance of authorised partner organisations such as the Syria Trust for Development, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Through the joint interventions we have managed to supply the most vulnerable internally displaced families with food, baby milk formula, toiletries, mattresses, medicines and clothing.

Photo: Virginie Nguyen Hoang
When the conflict reached the north, many farmers had to stop cultivating their land but only have some sheep as source of meager income  © Virginie Nguyen Hoang
SOS Children's Villages Syria is planning to extend the emergency response to more than 10,000 people, two thirds of them being children. A recently conducted assessment by various international actors in the field showed that most pressing needs in Syria are food (due to high market prices, lack in production material and working man-power, high prices of fuel for the transport of food etc.), drinking water, medical supplies and psychosocial support for children and their families. These are the need gaps that SOS Children’s Villages will address. Based on the resources we have, our response will focus on those areas in Syria where our staff can freely move and help is possible. Two of those, namely Aleppo and the rural areas of Damascus, are already identified by OCHA and UNICEF as the areas still in dire need of humanitarian aid.

There are areas such as the Idlib region which are either completely inaccessible or only accessible under very difficult conditions. However, the people there urgently need help. There are many injured who cannot be taken care of adequately; there is a lack of food, electricity, fuel and drinking water. Overall the humanitarian assistance provided at present is not nearly sufficient to provide for the civil population across the whole of Syria, especially not in those areas controlled by opposition forces, and in the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries.