Information and news about syria

Handicap International is an “independent and impartial organization working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster.” Founded in 1982 to help 6,000 Cambodian amputees living in refugee camps along the Thai border, it evolved from being mainly focused towards improving the living conditions of the disabled to implementing prevention programs through “weapons and landmine clearance, risk education activities, stockpile management, and advocacy to ban landmines and cluster bombs.” This comprehensive approach comprises a series of preventive and effective actions to ensure that disabled people all over the world enjoy basic human rights and respect.

One billion people across the globe -15 percent of the world’s population- live with a disability. Today, the issue of access for the disabled is sorely under-treated in developing countries, and there are still many places with no facilities for the disabled at all. The story of Hodan, suffering from multiple disabilities including hearing, physical and intellectual impairments, is a heartbreaking illustration of this problem.

Hodan had to stay home all day long and had no friends because her school made no adjustments for disabled children. It was not until she turned 17 that she was finally able to go to school as a first grader because Handicap International set up a series of training programs to compensate for the lack of accessibility. Unfortunately, her story is just one among many. In Ethiopia alone, of the 4.8 million children living with disabilities, only 3 percent go to school according to Handicap International.

In 2011, Handicap International helped 768,050 disabled people through Health and Prevention; 424,600 through the management and distribution of aid; 332,320 through demining campaigns and 118,550 people through rehabilitation. In the past, Handicap International has intervened in crisis situations such as the Balkan wars (1993), the Rwanda Genocide (1994), the Sierra Leone civil war (1996) and the 2001 earthquake in India, to name a few examples. In total, Handicap International has operated in more than 60 countries, providing equipment and training to better the conditions of the forgotten and the ostracized.

Today, Handicap International centers its actions around the Syrian refugee crisis and condemns international inaction in the face of the atrocities committed. Thanks to its prevention and training programs, Handicap International will have helped almost 37,000 Syrians by June 2013 while teaching 9,000 others how to spot and avoid weapons and explosive war remnants.

It also launched an International Campaign to Ban Landmines which has saved thousands of lives and for which it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after the 1997 Mine Ban treaty was passed. It is now actively fighting to make this treaty a reality across the globe.

Lauren Yeh

Sources: Handicap International, ICBL
Photo: Monsoon Adventure

Push for Increased Aid to Syria
Millions have suffered from the brutal two-year conflict in Syria. The foreign aid given to humanitarian organizations as well as refugees is not enough. This is why Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos and High Commissioner of Refugees Antonio Guterres are appealing to the UN for an additional $3.1 billion to meet humanitarian needs in Syria and throughout the region. The governments of Lebanon and Jordan are also seeking an additional $830 million to support nearly 500,000 Syrian refugees in each country. This money will help support efforts to provide education and health services to the refugees.

“After more than two years of brutal conflict, almost a third of Syrians need urgent humanitarian help and protection, but the needs are growing more quickly than we can meet them,” said Amos.

The UN estimates that 6.8 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance, 4.25 million are internally displaced from their homes, and at least 1.6 million Syrian refugees are now living in several neighboring countries. In December 2012, $1.5 billion was requested to help 4 million people in Syria as well as 1.1 million refugees. UNHCR now estimates there could be as many as 3.65 million Syrian refugees by the end of 2013.

In the last few months, the UN and other international and local humanitarian organizations in Syria have fed up to 2.4 million per month, vaccinated more than 1 million children against measles and polio, made drinking water safe for over 9 million people and provided for nearly 920,000 people. However, this is not enough and these organizations are aiming to help even more people. With this new aid, they would be able to feed 4 million Syrians, immunize 1.7 million children, provide nearly 7 million people with health care and 10 million with safe drinking water.

“The funds we are appealing for are a matter of survival for suffering Syrians and they are essential for the neighboring countries hosting refugees,” said High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres.

This aid will also help governments in the region who are feeling the strain of the conflict. Housing refugees has come at a high price for the host countries with increasing conflict and rising regional insecurity. Tensions are high in the region and this aid will help to relieve it.

– Catherine Ulrich

Source: UNICEF
Photo: The Real Truth

Food Aid Reform Act
On Wednesday, June 12 discussions continued on Capitol Hill in an attempt to push forward a modernization of US international food aid policy according to the Guardian’s Cydney Hargis.  HR 1983, the Food Aid Reform Act, would remove laws requiring US food aid to be grown in the United States and then shipped to the receiving countries.  Instead, it would allow food aid to be purchased in areas local to the countries receiving it.  The impact of the Food Aid Reform Act would be twofold:  it would eliminate the time and costs required to ship the food, and it would further stimulate the economies of countries or regions that are receiving US food aid.

Under the Food Aid Reform Act, aid could reach the receiving country up to 14 weeks sooner, giving up to 4 million people better access to food.  It would also significantly decrease transportation costs of US food aid, which make up 50 percent of the US food aid budget.  Right now US food aid has to travel 7,000 miles to reach its destination and that food chain is vulnerable, especially in conflict zones such as what we are seeing right now in Syria.

The other aspect of the Food Aid Reform Act is the stimulation of the local economy where the food is being produced.  When the US ships food to developing countries as aid, the US food can crowd out locally produced food.  This is especially important considering that most of the world’s poorest and those without food security are small farmers.  In shipping food to aid the poorest in the developing world, the US can prevent these farmers from being able to sell their crops at a profitable price, thereby harming the very people which USAID is supposed to be helping.

Purchasing food aid locally will raise the demand for local food, thereby driving up the price and enabling farmers to gain more profit out of the crops they sell.  This profit can then be put towards things like better fertilizers, water pumps, and other things which increase the productivity of these farmers.  When these farmers increase their productivity their communities will develop their food security, fixing the very reason that food aid would have to be provided to these developing nations in the first place.

The Food Aid Reform Act is a piece of bipartisan legislation that will go a long way to modernize US foreign aid.  It will help stimulate developing economies to bring them further towards contributing significantly to the global economy, which will ultimately lead to a more prosperous international community as a whole.

 Martin Drake

Source: The Guardian, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Photo: ONE


Half a million people or one third of all refugees from the conflict in Syria. These are the realities of the influx of Syrian refugees that has flooded into Jordan since the start of the conflict.

For two years, Jordan has accepted these refugees, setting up camps hosting up to 100,000 Syrians. The situation, however, has become extreme. With numbers like these resources and supplies have become a major concern. And as a result, Jordan has closed its border with Syria, turning all but critically injured refugees away.

Jordan has yet to give an official explanation for the closure, but their reasons are evident. With no assistance from the outside world, Jordan has been bearing the cost of these refugees for two years now. This includes both running the refugee camps and providing healthcare. And with such crowded living conditions  in the camps, rates of infectious diseases continue to climb. Furthermore, as summer approaches, the risk of dehydration increases. All of these conditions place huge demands on the Jordanian government.

Although millions of dollars of international assistance have been pledged, only a fraction has arrived so far. And with a thousand new refugees arriving at the border every day, the strain has become too much. Though the closing of its borders represents a breach of an international obligation to be open to refugees, the international community has avoided criticizing Jordan, likely because the rest of the international community has not stepped in to alleviate the pressure.

While many international organizations are already working in the region, including Médecins Sans Frontières, what is really needed is financial support. These organizations have limited funding, and without the proper infrastructure in place, their impact is limited.

It’s time for the international community to step in, rather than simply allowing the countries like Jordan that neighbor Syria to bear the brunt of the responsibility for the welfare of the refugees.

– David Wilson

Source: Reuters,MSF
Photot: Demotix

Half of Syria Will Be in Need of Aid, Says UN
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly half of the population of Syria will be in need of foreign aid by the end of 2013. With nearly 8,000 people per day leaving the country with no sign of impending political compromise or end to the fighting, the UN estimates that there will be 3.5 million refugees by the end of the year, and 10 million in dire need of aid – with half of those being children.

The commissioner claimed that although he has been involved with long civil wars in the past, including refugee situations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the current crisis in Syria is the most serious he has ever seen, calling it “the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war.”

The situation is being compounded by already-low levels of foreign aid to organizations working to bring relief to refugees in the area. Unicef reported being underfunded by 70%, and the commissioner stated that foreign powers are unable to provide aid due to current economic conditions.

Besides the Syrian refugees who have fled the country for bordering nations, nearly three million Syrians remain displaced within the country’s borders and thus have very few opportunities for providing basic necessities, like consistent food and clean water – not to mention access to electricity.

The commissioner also noted the geopolitical implications of the Syrian civil war, saying that the stress placed on neighboring nations Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq are very serious, saying “it’s the most dangerous of all crises.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: Guardian

Syrian Children Fed and Educated in Refugee Camps

While most reports about Syria the past week have discussed the casualties of what has been the deadliest month to record in the three-year long civil war, hope through education remains in the face of strife and depravity.

Of the thousands of children who have fled to Jordan and Iraq, some have been fortunate enough to continue their education. More recently as well, these children also began receiving consistent meals and snacks at their schools.

On March 24, the World Food Programme, a branch of the United Nations, began a special program to feed children attending schools in refugee camps. Their goal was not only to increase the children’s nutritional intake but to also ensure that they continue to attend school. In a matter of two weeks, World Food Programme has already seen a 20 percent increase in attendance throughout the camps they worked in.

World Food Programme partnered with five different schools; two schools in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan (run by UNICEF) which services 6,000 children and the Domiz refugee camp school and two schools in Al-Qaim, located in Iraq, reaching 4,500 children.

The main snack that is distributed is a date biscuit, an already popular and familiar snack in the Middle East. This version however is fortified with three minerals and 11 vitamins, providing students with 450 calories to help sustain them through their day.

With plans to help an additional 24,000 children in Zaatari and 1,500 throughout Iraq, World Food Programme would need to raise $780,000 to run the program through the end of the year. Aside from the millions of dollars needed to feed all refugees, and not just children attending schools, this particular project has hopes of being able to create a stable routine and lifestyle for children who have already encountered so much.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: UN News Centre

Funding Crisis in Aiding Syrian Refugees
The Syrian Civil War has led to hundreds of Syrians fleeing out of the country. While this has helped them escape from the dangerous fighting and uncertain living that is prevalent in Syria today (to a large extent), it has also led to an array of problems as outside countries try to feed, house, school, and protect Syrian refugees. For many surrounding countries, there is no question as to whether help and support should be provided to refugees. Rather, the question comes in the form of from where. Where will the money come from to provide the necessities of food, education, and housing?

This is where the UN has stepped in, overcompensating for promised funding from Gulf countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates that has failed to appear. Yet, with its current spending, the UN fund is running low and borrowing heavily. The results of this type of spending will not only have heavy consequences for future aid for Syrian refugees but for other areas in which the UN provides funding as well.

On its current track, the UN Food Programme is projected to spend $1 billion a year, at a rate of $18 million a week. Yet, only half of this amount is actually being raised from donor countries according to Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of WFP. The UN Food Programme, Cousin says, is “borrowing money from other areas of the organisation.” The UN is calling for Gulf countries to step up and provide the funding they promised to ensure that Syrian refugees continue to receive support and aid. In January, when the UN was appealing to many countries to pledge aid support, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates each promised $300 million. Yet, in the months since the pledge, none of this money has surfaced leaving the UN, and the UN Food Programme specifically, in a very tough spot.

The WFP funding crisis comes at a very difficult time in the Syrian War as it is approaching its third year and Syrian refugee numbers continue to rise. There is much tension among host countries as they try to compensate for increases in population and provide humane and sanitary living quarters. Protests have broken out in countries such as Turkey resulting in military police intervention. The funding crisis only makes this more difficult as there is less money to ensure safe and humane practices.

The push for collecting aid from Gulf countries has become a top priority of the UN. Without more money, humanitarians are worried that more and more outbreaks and protests could occur in host countries leading to more stress in an already stressful situation.

-Angela Hooks
Source: Financial Times
Photo:NBC News

The Most Important Thing: A Photo ProjectAs the violence in Syria and Sudan continues to escalate, photographer Brian Sokol gives us a brief look into the lives of displaced refugees. In his photo project titled “The Most Important Thing,” Sokol traveled to South Sudan and four other countries bordering Syria taking pictures of refugees holding the last object they grabbed before being forced to leave their homes. Sponsored by the UN Refugee Agency, the project profoundly reflects on what we would take if we had to leave everything behind.

Most of the refugees are carrying with them cooking or carpentry tools, clothing or baskets. Bottles, pans, axes, and other essentials are commonly being both easy to carry and vital to rebuilding their lives. Cell phones are treasured because they allow refugees to call loved ones in other camps and carry photos of them as well.

Abdul carries with him the keys to his home hoping that it will still be standing when he returns to Damascus. Twenty-year-old Tamara carries her diploma which she says will allow her to continue her education in Turkey. In eight-year-old May’s photo, she wears a set of bracelets saying that her most important thing was actually her doll Nancy which she had to leave behind in the rush to escape the violence. Omar carries with him a stringed instrument called a buzuq which he says “fills me with a sense of nostalgia and reminds me of my homeland.” Omar remembers that the night he left his home was the same night both his sons were killed.

The most important things for these refugees are items that either helps them survive and work towards a better future or reminisce better times. Twenty-four-year-old Alia of the Domiz refugee camp is confined to a wheelchair and blind in both eyes. She recalls when the fighting occurred right outside her house and being terrified and crying because she did not know what was happening. She says that the only important thing she brought “is my soul, nothing more – nothing material.”

– Rafael Panlilio
Source: Huffington Post

3 Big Ways UNICEF Is Helping Displaced Children In SyriaOut of the 2.1 million residents of Homs, 600,000 have been displaced by the Syrian conflict. This number, roughly 28%, is expected to increase as the violence continues. To help the people in need UNICEF has responded to the need of children in Syria in three big ways.

3. Establishing Remedial Classes in Neighborhood Shelters
UNICEF has established makeshift classrooms in housing complexes around the Al Wa’ar neighborhood which is where many displaced families have taken shelter. According to UNICEF, 20% of schools in Syria have been destroyed completely, damaged, or are being used to shelter internally displaced people. This has left many children without education for the past two years.

2. Vaccinating Children Against Common Diseases 
UNICEF has also begun a vaccination campaign to prevent the outbreak of common diseases such as measles, rubella, mumps and polio. This campaign is being enacted through schools and displaced family shelters and is predicted to help 2.5 million children.

1. Upgrading Water Systems 
As summer rolls into the Middle East, clean water and up-to-date water treatment facilities become a pressing necessity. In the aftermath of the conflict, many neighborhoods are littered with debris and garbage which pose a threat to children in Syria. UNICEF is supporting an upgrade of sanitation and water treatment facilities that will aid people like the extreme heat of summer arrives.

The Syrian civil war began on March 15, 2011, and has since left roughly 6 million Syrians in need of aid and 4 million people internally displaced. Due to these high numbers, many observers are concerned that, if the war drags on, this current generation of young people will become a lost generation.

– Pete Grapentien

Source UN News

A group of 14 UK-based NGOs, The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), has made an “emergency appeal” to provide aid to Syria, which is struggling under the duress of a civil war. With recent news of chemical warfare being used against civilians and a death toll that has reached nearly 70,000, aid groups are struggling to keep up with the deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Recent estimates place at least 8,000 refugees fleeing the country per day, compared to 1,000 per day a few months ago.  Because of mass displacement and intense fighting, NGOs and other aid groups are finding it extremely difficult to reach civilians who are in need. Members of the DEC have been able to extend aid to refugees who have fled to other surrounding countries, and a number of other groups have had success reaching people throughout Aleppo, Damascus, Homs, and other areas throughout northern Syria.

The UN asserted that although they have requested $1.5 billion in emergency aid, only a small portion of that need has been met. The DEC’s Chief Executive, Saleh Saeed, said that even though a number of agencies are attempting to work together in the region, there remain a high number of civilians in urgent need, and that “the greatest challenge to meeting those needs remains the barriers to delivering aid which are faced by impartial humanitarian agencies such as our members,” as well as financial pressures.

The total number of people who are in need of aid directly stemming from the situation in Syria has reached 5 million, as the DEC plans to appeal to public and government officials for additional help.

Christina Kindlon

Source: Guardian