Information and news about syria

When several U.S. Mennonite conferences convened in Elkhart, Indiana to found the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in 1920, their aim was modest in comparison to their current work. Originally focused on providing aid and assistance to famine-stricken Mennonites in Ukraine, Russia, and Turkey, MCC’s efforts now spread over more than 50 countries across five continents, and are no longer focused on aiding those of their own faith.

MCC works primarily by partnering with local organizations, both secular and religious, to distribute aid funded primarily by donations from Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Church communities in the United States and Canada. While MCC’s mission statement is inspired by and based upon Christian scripture, in practice their work is secular and is primarily focused on peace-building efforts, disaster relief, and sustainable community development.

The work done by MCC and its partners is as diverse as the needs of the specific communities in which they operate. Their food-relief programs include both aid and development based approaches. Last year the Canadian MCC supported over $1.3 million in food aid for people whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the ongoing conflict in Syria. Just one example of MCC’s more development-focused programs is a partnership with organization Global Service Corps that works towards educating Tanzanian farmers on sustainable agricultural methods that increase crop yield and prevent soil erosion and nutrient depletion. MCC funds similar agricultural education programs in 15 other countries around the world including Mozambique, Honduras, Palestine, and North Korea.

In addition to food relief, MCC also supports initiatives that provide easier access to safe drinking water, education for children, disaster relief, and HIV/AIDS related aid and education. One area of MCC’s work that has sparked some controversy, however, is their peace and justice related work in Palestine/Israel. MCC supports a number of Palestinian and Israeli organizations devoted to reaching a peaceful resolution of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. Some of their partners are focused on ending what they view as destructive behavior on the part of Israel’s government, such as the Israeli Commission Against House Demolitions, and the Palestinian organization Stop The Wall. This has led to the Israel-based organization NGO Monitor decrying MCC as “promoting a radical pro-Palestinian agenda.”

While MCC’s efforts to end conflict and aid communities in Palestine/Israel have seemingly shed a negative light on the organization for some in this highly politicized arena, it is clear that their focus remains global. And, despite this wide focus, the Mennonite Central Committee continues to provide aid and funding to local organizations that have real tangible impact upon the lives of those less fortunate across the world.

– Coleman Durkin

Sources: Mennonite Central Committee, ReliefWeb, NGO Monitor
Picture: Mennonite Central Comittee

Help Aid Refugees
There are more refugees in the world right now than at any point in history. In addition to the bare necessities: food, water, shelter, this vulnerable group needs us to be their champions. Here is what you can do to help Syrian refugees:


10 Things Refugees Need


  • Make food aid local. Every day, millions of Syrian refugees eat food shipped from overseas—while local farmers and grocers suffer. Rather than shipping in flour, oil and other food items, international organizations should use that money to buy the food from local providers, which would both feed the hungry and empower the poor. The World Food Program, which recognizes this need, has already distributed over a million food vouchers to refugees that are redeemable in local food markets.
  • Engage refugees in development efforts and politics. The best way to begin lifting refugees out of acute crisis is to actually involve them in problem-solving efforts and local politics. Host countries and aid organizations often discriminate against refugees as objects in need, not subjects with knowledge and power.
  • Engage hosts in advocacy efforts. In the same way that many relief efforts ignore the power of refugees themselves, many ignore the power of local service providers to change in-country government policy. Development organizations need to take advantage of the network of relationships between local employers and politicians to end discrimination against refugees.
  • Create jobs. Too many education efforts in refugee populations wane due to lack of motivation—what job lies at the end of their efforts? To combat refugee retention, host countries need to seek ways to reward educated refugees. In addition, policy-makers should base refugee livelihood programs on careful analysis of refugee-host economies for maximum impact.
  • Integrate populations. Too often, refugee and host country populations remain segregated for years—to the detriment of both. Studies consistently show that integrating communities simultaneously lowers cost and increases economic activity, particularly foreign trade. Freedom of movement is essential to end the refugee crisis.
  • Teach toddlers. Over and over again, education efforts find success where students were motivated to attend school from a young age—like 4. Late-comers often lose motivation and drop out, but the early birds stick it out more often. The World University Service of Canada student refugee program follows this model, and their success has inspired the UNHCR to begin implementing some of their methods in its new education initiatives.
  • Teach girls. Although the balance between men and women in refugee populations is roughly equal, girls usually only make up a quarter of students in refugee schools. Yet development organizations across the world consistently find that women are more likely to work and lift themselves out of poverty. Teaching girls will have greater long-term benefits than teaching boys.
  • End encampment. The reasons to avoid refugee camps abound, and the UNHCR has long recognized the need for new solutions. Camps become sinks of poverty, sources of continued xenophobia, and environmental nightmares. Plenty of space is opening up for anti-encampment advocacy action, like that taken by the London-based Pan-African Development Education and Advocacy Programme.
  • Focus on self-reliance. Development actors have long recognized the importance of moving away from long-term “care and maintenance” programs that stifle self-initiative and effective growth. Five years ago, the UNHCR executive committee made sweeping changes to their approach based on this wisdom, and a renewed focus on self-reliance is key to addressing the needs of Syrian refugees.
  • Consider the negative externalities of good intentions. If one problem has characterized relief efforts in and around Syria, it is lack of coordination. Thousands of iNGOs, government agencies and multilateral institutes have flooded the region with the best of intentions—but not always the best interaction or foresight. As efforts progress, the importance of communication has become clear.

– John Mahon

Sources: The Guardian WFP WUSC
Photo: Daily Star

Turkish police blame Syrian aid workers for anti-government protests.

As reported by the Pakistan Daily times, July 6, Turkish police are blaming Syrian aid workers for the region’s unrest. During a police raid of two humanitarian aid missions in Syria, four foreigners were deported, witnesses said. Although Turkish officials denied the actions as being linked to current nationwide demonstrations, similar cases suggest otherwise.

Another Syrian humanitarian source told the Pakistan Daily Times of two separate cases in the city of Antakya. Near the border with Syria, police detained one Spanish, one German and two British aid workers and interrogated them. After their interrogation they too were deported, the source claims.

The same source tells of another case. June 26, A NGO staff member was forced off the road by unmarked police cars. After trying to run, the NGO staff member was caught and searched. After being detained and interrogated for hours they were transferred to a counter-terrorism unit. The next day, another NGO office undergoing registration was raided by 20 police officers. The police charges state that the office was suspicious of fomenting unrest, the source claims.

Incidence of environmental campaigns to save central Istanbul parks happening during the registration of many humanitarian offices have led Turkish officials to blame public unrest on humanitarian aid groups. As a result, unregistered humanitarian aid missions should stop working in Turkey, the source claims.

“With only six NGOs receiving working permits thus far, and so many others waiting in line”, it is unlikely that the foreign aid will be able to prosper any time soon, the source infers.

Requests for ‘Humanitarian Pause’

In addition to the deportation of Syrian aid workers and halting of NGO humanitarian progress in Turkey, there are suggestions of a wide spread humanitarian pause for all Syrian cross-border humanitarian workers.

In response to the increased number of deaths in Syria between March 2011, and April 2013, UN Humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos requested a ‘humanitarian pause’ for all aid workers in Syria to promote aid access and appropriate cross border operations.

Amos was quoted by as saying “The security, economic, political, social, development and humanitarian consequences of this crisis are extremely grave and its human impact immeasurable in terms of the long term trauma and emotional impact on this and future generations of Syrians”.

Halting the $3.1billion of aid to the estimated 6.8 million Syrians and bordering regions needing assistance would prevent any further negative consequences for workers, Amos suggested. reported Amos’ seriousness about temporary halt to aid and the importance of cross-border aid when “appropriate”.

Although, as reported by, the Syrian ambassador to the UN claims to be shouldering the responsibility and duty of its people, prevention of humanitarian safety and aid efforts creates yet a another road block for the thousands of Syrians needing assistance. As reported by, the Syrian government strongly opposes any international cross-border operations.

Like the Turkish government officials, Syria now has blocked Syrian humanitarian efforts.

– Danielle Doedens

Sources: RT, Daily Times
Photo: Idea Stream

Two years of war have severely destabilized Syria’s economy. The Syrian pound, valued at 47 to the US dollar before the outbreak of hostilities, now trades at 330, around 15% of pre-war value. Similarly, unemployment now stands five times the rate it was two years ago, the public sector has suffered a loss of $15 billion, and the economy as a whole has shrunk by 35%.

Worse though is Syria’s growing reliance on foreign aid, specifically that from Iran, Russia, and China. Due to the destruction of factories, disruption of agriculture, and shrinking oil revenues as rebels control oil fields and Western countries impose sanctions, Syria no longer able maintains its former level of self-sufficiency.

A result of the government’s struggles may soon be a reversion to a stricter socialist policy, similar to how the country was run in the 1980s. Ironically, it is reforms instituted by Bashar al-Assad at the beginning of his presidency that are now being reviewed. Should these changes go into effect, the modest reforms toward an open market and private business could reverse, with greater government control on wages and subsidized goods.

Despite the government’s troubles and the spiraling currency, it is unclear whether the country’s economic crisis will play a factor in the ongoing civil war. The government blames foreign sanctions and the opposition on the economic difficulties for the conflict, and due to the national division it is quite probable that the situation will not influence the population in either direction. But whether it makes a difference politically, the fighting takes its toll on the economy, and those Syrians who have not yet become refugees are feeling the hardship all the same.

– David Wilson

Sources: New York Times Washington Post
Photo: NPR

New Crisis Models are Good News for Syrian Refugees
As thousands of Syrian refugees flood into neighboring countries, Lebanon stands out as a particularly sought-after harbor. The country’s proximity to Syria makes it a prime target for refugees and, the entourage of international organizations that come with them. Unlike their counterparts in other countries, however, Syrians in Lebanon are not living in camps—for the most part, they are looking for apartments, hunting for jobs, and otherwise acting like typical immigrants. Except that there are a million of them doing so.

Lebanon, which struggles to support its own population of four million, is staggering under the weight of the massive influx of refugees. Because the UN deliberately avoided internment as a solution, Syrians wander Lebanese streets and sleep under Lebanese roofs. Of course, a million extra people with no homes cause serious unrest, not to mention the dramatic surplus of demand that has thrown the Lebanese economy into a tailspin. As prices spike, jobs dwindle, and aid that originally flowed to the Lebanese gets repurposed for refugee relief, the Lebanese, understandably, grow hostile to the Syrians in their midst.

“At first, we were sympathetic, but now it has changed,” says one Lebanese family. “We used to get assistance, food parcels, assistance with school fees, food parcels, diesel fuel, and other aid, but we get nothing at all now.”

The growing dissent among locals signals the lack of coordination and direction of international efforts, which have collectively ignored host-side problems and thus complicated host-refugee relationships.

World Vision, one of the NGOs with the greatest presence in the Syrian refugee crisis, has been active in focusing on both short-term relief goals and longer-term development goals among host populations. The organization has long called for holistic programs aimed at refugee-host integration, increased funding for agencies that recognize the crisis’ underlying social problems, and improved consulting on the ground for a more effective and coordinated response.

In response to the ever-increasing need for both relief and local development, the World Food Program launched a food voucher program in the region in partnership with NGOs like World Vision. The program allocates aid money for expenditures in local food markets, a move designed to both feed hungry refugees and empowers the poor farmers and grocers who can feed them.

Sara Pantuliano, the director of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute, applauds the work done by organizations like Vision and the WFP. Her institute focuses on protracted refugee situations and the myriad of issues surrounding population integration, and she sees plenty of hope in their work. “We see some improvement in donor responses, in some agencies’ response,” she said.

However, she also recognizes that much of their kind of work runs against the grain of the typical refugee crisis response. “They continue to be the exception in many ways,” she admitted.

– John Mahon

Sources: Devex, Overseas Development Institute, World Vision
Photo: The Electronic Intifada

For many females in the Syrian refugee camps, the fear of death that propelled them from their home is now replaced by the fear of sexual assault in what is supposed to be their area of sanctuary. Rape and sexual assault have become major issues in the Syrian civil war, especially in the Zataari refugee camp in Jordan, where the problem has become more concentrated and centralized.

Because there is such a harsh stigma surrounding rape and the blame often lies on the victim rather than the assailant, most women do not report any incidence. The female victims often remain silent in fear of retribution from the perpetrators as well as the shame and anger that would fall on their family members.

In response to this problem, many women have entered into unwanted marriages for protection. These marriages are called “sutra” marriages and are becoming increasingly common as the Zaataari camp continues to be flooded with new refugees from across the border. This is often orchestrated by the male members of the family who, feeling they cannot offer their daughters adequate protection, marry them off to someone they believe can.

One Syrian American Medical Society volunteer estimates that the instances of child marriage in Syrian refugee camps are 60% higher than in Syria. Sexual exploitation in the Zaatari camp is so prevalent that a number of refugees have created monitoring groups that have uncovered several “marriage brokers” who infiltrated the camp posing as workers. These individuals are merely escorted off the camp if reported.

CNN recently published an article sharing numerous experiences of women inside the camp. One woman, named Ruwaida, who was a wedding dress designer back in Syria, now designs dresses for girls as young as 13. She says that girls rarely got married that young in Syria, but that it has become commonplace in their new temporary home.

“I feel like I have a child between my hands and she is having to take on a responsibility that’s bigger than she is,” Ruwaida says. “I feel her life is over, her life is ending early.” Another encounter documented was with 14-year-old Eman, who married at 13 and became a mother before her body was even fully developed. She said, “I wouldn’t have gotten married, it’s because of the situation.”

– Kathryn Cassibry

Sources: CNN, Standpoint Magazine
Photo: PressTV

Food Crisis in Syria
The Syrian Civil War has created a food crisis in Syria. According to the United Nations, nearly “four million Syrians, a fifth of the population, are unable to produce or buy enough food, and farmers are short of the seed and fertilizers they need to plant their crop.”

The food shortage in Syria is a result of “massive population displacement, disruption of agricultural production, unemployment, economic sanctions and high food and fuel prices.” Overall, Syria’s poultry production has decreased by 50 percent and its wheat production is down 40 percent. As a result, food prices have spiked dramatically, with the average monthly price of wheat flour more than doubling between May of 2011 and May of 2013.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has requested $41.7 million to assist 768,000 people in Syria. So far, the agency has only $3.3 million of the requested funds. The Food and Agriculture Organization is working to assist those who are internally displaced in Syria as well as providing aid to the 1.6 million Syrians who have sought refuge from the conflict in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.

In addition to creating a food shortage throughout the nation, the Syrian Civil War has created problems in maintaining health standards for both humans and animals. Before the food crisis, “9.3 percent of children suffer[ed] from wasting and 23 percent of them stunted.” It is likely that these rates have increased since the onset of the food crisis. Additionally, child vaccination coverage has decreased from 95 percent in 2009 to 80 percent in 2012, creating concerns about the spread of diseases. Likewise, “there are practically no routine drugs or vaccines for animals and no vets to administer them,” creating the potential for diseases being transmitted among livestock and intensifying the food crisis.

Jordan Kline

Sources: The Guardian, Reuters

The civil war in Syria is entering its third year, having displaced more than 3 million people. Most of these people leave all of their belongings behind, fleeing the country without crucial resources. Refugees find themselves entirely dependent on others, relying on the UN Refugee Agency, foreign governments, and other aid organizations to survive without employment or permanent housing.

While the prospects in refugee camps may seem bleak, some Syrian refugees have managed to attain financial independence by utilizing particular skills. Diar*, a young man who arrived at Iraq’s Domiz Camp last July, opened a tailor shop that served refugees and the surrounding community. He ran his own tailor shop for years in Damascus, helping his younger siblings go to school with his income.

When two explosions forced him to leave Syria and abandon his shop, Diar decided to bring his pressing machine with him in case he could use it as a source of income.

As one of more than 90,000 Syrian refugees living in the Kurdish region of Iraq and 31,000 living in Domiz alone, Diar recognized a potential market and used his family’s small camp space to create a new tailor shop.

With upfront help from the UNHCR, which provided him with the initial electricity and space to operate his business, Diar has managed to gain a loyal following. His customers laud his shop for its “quality and better service,” claiming that Diar has better prices than do businesses outside of the camp. Diar has also gained customers native to the region because of his competitive prices and good service.

Diar’s tailor shop may seem like an anomaly within the atmosphere of a refugee camp, but he is one of many business owners who have contributed to the camp economy in Domiz. Small-scale businesses are helping to reduce the demands on aid organizations by providing services for affordable prices. The businesses also help ensure that refugees do not lose their sense of autonomy after being forced from their own country.

While it is costly for the UNHCR to administer refugee camps, entrepreneurs are lessening the burden, using the help they receive from aid organizations to give back to their new communities.

* Name has been changed.

– Katie Bandera

Source: UNHCR The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

Syria Refugees
Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, over 1.7 million people have fled Syria seeking refuge in the surrounding countries. Lebanon has received the largest number of refugees in the region. The United Nations Humanitarian Chief recently visited Lebanon and is now calling for increased support to help the country handle the burden of caring for these refugees.

“Since my last visit to Lebanon just six months ago, the number of refugees has increased by more than 200 percent,” Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos said in Beirut, at the end of her visit. “By the end of the year, refugees could make up 20 per cent of Lebanon’s population.”

To support over half a million Syrian refugees, Lebanon will need more humanitarian aid than ever before. Last month, the U.N. launched a $3 billion appeal to provide life-saving aid and protection to Syrian refugees. Of this $3 billion, Lebanon was allocated $1.7 billion. However, humanitarian organizations and the Lebanese government have only received 15% of the funding needed so far, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“The Government and people of Lebanon have opened their borders and doors to their Syrian neighbors in time of need,” said Ms. Amos,“And the crisis is taking a toll on the economy and on the provision of basic services, such as health and education, in the country.”

On her visit, Ms. Amos visited the Bekaa region of Lebanon, which is home to 180,000 refugees. After her visit to the settlements Ms. Amos commented, “Over 50% of the Syrian refugees here are children. It is Syria’s future that is being blighted. We need to do all we can to support the Lebanese Government…if you have thousands of refugees crossing the border every day, it’s a huge burden not just on the country but also on the people who are hosting the refugees.”

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: UN News, UNHCR

The Syrian Civil War is forcing up to 3,000 people to seek refuge from the conflict every day. The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan has absorbed 120,000 of these refugees, providing limited resources to those at the camp. Among the many needs of the camp’s residents is adequate maternal care for pregnant refugees. According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), “there are 10 to 13 births taking place every day in the Zaatari camp alone,” and the number of births is expected to “increase as the number of refugees in the camp increases.”

Muna Idris of the UNFPA estimates that by the end of the year, “there will be 1.2 million refugees in Jordan,” with 30,000 of those expected to be pregnant women. Syrian births in refugee camps are on the rise.

Currently, medical care at the Zaatari refugee camp is provided by professionals from Jordan, France, the United Arab Emirates, and other countries throughout the world. Health care is administered in “tent hospitals,” which are reportedly “better than those in parts of Syria hit hardest by more than two years of war,” demonstrating the extent of the deteriorated conditions in war-torn Syria. In the tent hospitals, medical professionals have access to “an oxygen machine, monitors for mother and baby, the hospital bed, a drip, [and] lights and medical instruments” for delivering through Caesarean sections. The camp only has one gynecologist and anesthesiologist who perform all of the deliveries , at times working 18 hour long days delivering as many as five babies a day.

Although healthcare providers work hard to ensure that both mother and baby are healthy through pregnancy and delivery, mothers dislike being away from family and their homeland with a newborn. Many women have fled from Syria to avoid the violence of civil war while their husbands remained at home “to deal with businesses, protect homes or even fight in the rebellion.” In addition to facing the challenge of taking care of a newborn on their own, many mothers are concerned about their baby’s future. Those born in a refugee camp are “registered as a refugee” without any citizenship. The hope is that in the future both mothers and their children can return back home to a Syria that is free from conflict.

Jordan Kline

Sources: UNICEF
Sources: ABC News