Child Poverty In SyriaFor the past decade, Syria has been the center of a brutal civil war. As a result, millions of Syrians face the everyday threats of violence, hunger and disease that wartime poverty brings about. Those most vulnerable to the effects of poverty include Syria’s children. A closer look at child poverty in Syria provides insight into the lives of Syrian children.

10 Facts About Child Poverty in Syria

  1. Roughly six million Syrian children rely on humanitarian assistance. Syrian children are among the most vulnerable groups in the Syrian civil war. The war has affected more than 11.1 million Syrians, almost half of whom are children.
  2. Children are unable to attend school. The civil war greatly fuels child poverty in Syria. As parents struggle to afford to send their children to school, many teachers are unpaid and destitute school buildings are collapsing. Nearly 2.5 million Syrian children are unable to attend school. This number does not include the 750,000 displaced Syrian children in nearby countries who also have no access to education. According to World Vision, the Syrian conflict has “reversed two decades of educational progress.”
  3. More than half of all Syrian children suffer from hunger. An estimated 60% of the nation’s children are suffering from hunger and 28% endure stunting as a consequence of malnutrition. The percentage of Syrian people suffering from food insecurity is currently the highest it has ever been since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011. With 6.2 million children currently living in hunger, the numbers are only rising, having increased by roughly 35% from November 2020 to February 2021.
  4. Child labor is increasing. Faced with the threat of extreme child poverty in Syria, many school-aged boys drop out of school to support their families. These boys regularly work in unsafe situations for little pay. The research study “Survey on Child Labour in Agriculture in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon: The Case of Syrian Refugees” provides statistics on Syrian child labor. The 2019 study concluded that about 70% of Syrian refugee “children between 4 and 18 years old” were employed, “with an average age of 12.9 years.” Additionally, about 75% of these children worked in the agricultural sector. In this sector, about 30% of working children have experienced injuries.
  5. Boys are targets for child soldiers. As boys drop out of school to support their families, they are at higher risk of being recruited as child soldiers. With no income to provide for their children, many families resort to sending their young boys for training as child soldiers, believing that it is the best option. In 2021 alone, almost 840 children were recruited as child soldiers, among other roles, with 797 of these children being boys.
  6. Child marriage is rampant. Many families resort to child marriage to solve their economic situations. Sexual abuse of young girls also runs rampant in crowded refugee camps. Desperate to save their daughters from “child trafficking and sexual exploitation” and unable to economically provide for their children, many families arrange marriages for teenage girls. Out of girls aged 15-19, about 3.8% give birth every year.
  7. Weather has significant impacts. Millions of displaced and homeless children in Northwest Syria face brutal winters. Their only shelter from the harsh cold is often a tent or severely damaged and unsafe buildings that serve as emergency shelters. Roughly 75% of all Syrian children killed in 2020 came from this part of the country.
  8. COVID-19 exacerbates poverty: The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated child poverty in Syria. In addition to the 11.1 million Syrians already in need of urgent humanitarian aid, an additional 1.1 million Syrians have found themselves in poverty as a consequence of the pandemic. COVID-19 has also caused the gross domestic product to fall by up to 15% in the nation’s nearby countries, meaning that Syrian refugees seeking refuge in neighboring countries have fallen further into poverty.
  9. Infrastructure is failing. Only 53% of hospitals are currently in service, greatly adding to child poverty in Syria. Since the start of the war, more than 25,000 children have been killed, a number that is only increasing due to limited healthcare services and lack of access to clean water.
  10. Children are vulnerable to diseases. Poor sanitation caused by a lack of infrastructure, resources and clean water makes Syrian children vulnerable to cholera and other diarrheal diseases. The lack of accessible healthcare means many children miss their regular health checkups. Extremely cold weather in the northwest part of Syria also makes children susceptible to pneumonia.

Addressing Child Poverty in Syria

To address the issue of child poverty in Syria, UNICEF has sent humanitarian assistance on the ground. UNICEF’s efforts focus on children’s education, health and sanitation, among other goals. In 2020 alone, UNICEF “screened 2.6 million Syrian children and women for acute malnutrition,” improved water services for 3.2 million people and vaccinated roughly 2.6 million children against polio. UNICEF also “supported 2.2 million children with education services in formal settings.”

While the conflict in Syria continues, vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected. The efforts of UNICEF ensure the protection and well-being of millions of Syrian children, reducing child poverty in Syria.

– Caroline Bersch
Photo: Unsplash

Switzerland helps IraqIn June 2021, Switzerland contributed $1.1 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) to assist hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Iraqi people as well as Syrian refugees in Iraq. These vulnerable groups of people struggle with food insecurity and have little access to income-generating opportunities. Switzerland helps Iraq by providing funding to the WFP to secure immediate needs and support the Urban Livelihoods projects.

Funding From Switzerland

The finance from Switzerland partially funds Urban Livelihoods projects. The initiative assists and trains around 135,000 people by helping them create businesses and employment opportunities that will provide a sustainable income, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Along with the Urban Livelihoods projects, funding from Switzerland supports the WFP in providing monthly food assistance to struggling families and refugees. The WFP uses mobile cash transfers and electronic vouchers to enable families to buy food from markets. In 2021, due to the added impacts of the pandemic, the WFP increased the amount of monthly cash assistance. In cases of “sudden displacement,” the organization “also provides ready-to-eat food packages to support families before they can access a market.”

Refugees in Iraq by the Numbers

As of February 2021, 329,500 refugees live in Iraq. The refugee population in Iraq consists of:

  • Roughly 241,650 Syrian people.
  • About 40,850 refugees from countries besides Syria.
  • An estimated 47,000 stateless individuals.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq hosts almost all of the country’s Syrian refugees. Urban areas host 60% of the refugees, while other refugees reside in nine refugee camps in Kurdistan.

The Syrian Civil War

Pro-democratic protests began in Syria in March 2011. Demonstrations against “high unemployment, corruption and limited political freedom” began after several surrounding countries protested similar conditions. President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian government met the protests with lethal force, which further increased the push for his resignation. As tensions rose, protesters armed themselves, initially in self-defense, and eventually, to drive out security forces.

As unrest continued, the government’s response intensified. Assad continued to use violence as he strove to end what he termed “foreign-backed terrorism.” Rebel groups emerged and the conflict turned into a civil war. Foreign countries took sides, sending ammunition and armed forces to either the Syrian government or the rebels. The conflict worsened as jihadist entities such as al-Qaeda became involved. The Syrian Civil War continues to this day, with more than 380,000 documented deaths by December 2020 and hundreds of thousands of people missing.

Switzerland’s Relationship With Iraq

Iraq and Switzerland share a positive relationship that continues to strengthen. Switzerland helps Iraq with projects focusing on “migration and peacebuilding” as well as stability. In October 2020, Switzerland established the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Strategy for Swiss focus in the region. Switzerland will follow the strategy until 2024, and thereafter, the plan will be reassessed. The strategy prioritizes five themes:

  1. Peace-building, security and human rights.
  2. Migration and safeguarding vulnerable people.
  3. Sustainable development in the region.
  4. “Economic affairs, finance and science.”
  5. Digitalization and the latest technologies.

In Iraq specifically, Switzerland focuses on “peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need and sustainable development.” Switzerland’s contribution to the WFP covers all three goals as improving local economies is essential to advance these goals.

Urban Livelihoods Projects

Switzerland helps Iraq and the WFP by funding Urban Livelihoods projects that assist “up to 68,000 people in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul and Wassit.” People who take part in Urban Livelihoods projects receive a cash stipend if they work on community activities such as clearing public areas, renovating schools, planting trees and recycling.

Smallholder farmers from camps for displaced people are also a focus of the projects because farming can serve as long-term income-creating opportunities. Projects increase the cash flow to local economies, which strengthens the economic resilience of entire communities.

In addition to Switzerland, many more countries also support Urban Livelihoods in Iraq, including Belgium, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden. The pandemic made the WFP’s projects even more essential as unemployment increased, making Switzerland’s contribution vital. The WFP calls on the international community to collectively contribute $10.1 million in order for the project to reach as many as 300,000 people in Iraq.

Through the commitment and generosity of countries and organizations, vulnerable people in nations such as Iraq can look toward a potentially brighter tomorrow.

Alex Alfano
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Children's Resilience
For much of the world’s youth, guns, bombs and rubble describe a scene from a war video game, but these circumstances are a reality for Syrian children. Nearly six million Syrian children have known nothing but war. Over 4.8 million were born into the Syrian conflict with one million more born as refugees after their families fled from conflict-riddled countries. However, despite these challenges, Syrian children’s resilience shines above and beyond their difficulties.

UNICEF, arguably the organization providing the most vital humanitarian assistance to Syrian children, requested $1.4 billion in 2021 to provide the necessary aid to those it serves. The Borgen Project spoke with Salam Al Janabi, Chief of Communications for UNICEF in Syria, who stated that “This past year we saw a 20% jump in the numbers of children in need. The triple crises of conflict, COVID-19 and a crushing economic crisis are really pushing children and families over the edge.” However, hope still exists, because Syrian children’s resilience is amazing despite their devastating living circumstances.

The Life of a Syrian Child

What is it like living as a child amid the conflict in Syria? Here are a few of the most startling statistics:

  • About 80% of Syrian children live in poverty.
  • The number of displaced children has doubled since 2012, reaching 2.6 million in 2020.
  • Nearly 12,000 children have been victims of death or injury since the start of the conflict in 2011. This means, one child has suffered injury or death every eight hours for 10 years, amounting to about 12,000 children. Unfortunately, the U.N. has predicted that this number could be much higher.
  • Between 2011 and 2020, militants recruited more than 5,700 children as child soldiers. Many of these children were no more than 7 years old.
  • Close to 3.5 million Syrian children are unable to attend school. Girls make up 40% of those without access to education.
  • Many children and their families have fled violence more than seven times, usually finding shelter in tents and unfinished buildings.

Hyperinflation and the country’s intense instability continue to breed catastrophe for Syrians. The price of a basket with the most basic food staples increased by 236% while the Syrian pound dropped by 78%. This staggering figure is forcing parents to put their children, as young as 7 years old, to work for meager wages to help feed the family.

UNICEF

Amid the ongoing violence, UNICEF continues to offer life-saving support to Syrian children. In 2020, UNICEF and its partners provided crucial support, such as:

  • Screening 2.6 million women and children for malnutrition.
  • Improving water supply for more than three million people.
  • Vaccinating more than 2.5 million children under 5 years old against polio.
  • Supporting the education of 2.2 million children.
  • Ensuring the continuation of services by providing PPE to healthcare workers, schools and NGOs.

In 2021, UNICEF hopes to give more than three million polio vaccinations and further expand access to safe, clean water. It will continue to provide explosive weapons risk education to young people and offer nutrition guidance to those providing care to infants and young children.

Prioritizing Education

Al Janabi told The Borgen Project, “I think what cannot be emphasized enough is how much parents here in Syria value education. Even in some of the remotest, most destroyed areas we have been to, parents will tell you that they need a school for their children.” Prior to the conflict, enrollment rates were consistently 97% or higher. In 2020, more than 3.7 million Syrian children received access to formal and informal education opportunities as a result of UNICEF and its partners’ assistance.

Education is vital for any child. However, education is absolutely vital for Syrian children. The schooling they miss not only affects their social and mental development but also holds their futures hostage. “The triple crisis” is a lot to contend with; however, even among these extremely challenging circumstances, Syrian children’s resilience continues to inspire.

Saja’s Story

To say that living in Syria as a child is challenging is a vast understatement. Nonetheless, these children carry with them infinite hope for the future. One of these children is Saja, who was just 7 years old when the war began. At age 11, Saja suffered serious injury from a bomb explosion. She lost four young friends and her leg that day. Her brother lost his life during a bombing raid. Her family relocated several times to escape the escalating violence.

UNICEF interviewed Saja at the age of 12. She spoke of the joyful life she experienced prior to the war and her passion for learning. She said she has to walk a long way to get to school which is difficult for her due to her injury. However, looking into the camera and speaking through a wide grin, she said, “It’s a struggle, but what else can you do?” Now 18, Saja says she never loses hope. Her great love of sports, soccer in particular, and school helped her overcome the difficulties that filled her childhood. She dreams of studying literature and physical education.

Hope for the Future

Children like Saja exist throughout Syria’s wartorn cities. Resilience has woven into the fabric of many of these childhoods. Children who refuse to give in to their circumstances instead seek to rise above them. Speaking to Syrian children’s resilience and courage, Al-Janabi stated that “Yes, they need our support and help but they also show us that they have it in them to get through this. The world cannot keep letting them down.” The enduring work UNICEF is doing offers a glimpse of normalcy and the organization has no intention of slowing down. While it is difficult to fathom the seriousness of the crisis in Syria, the children living through it are the true heroes in every story of this conflict.

– Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Syrian AidIn March 2021, the Biden administration announced it would provide roughly $600 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria. This Syrian aid aims to help the millions of refugees in the country as well as the native Syrian population. In addition to this pledge, the U.N. is seeking $4.2 billion to help Syrians and about $5.8 billion for countries hosting Syrian refugees. These efforts are being made as the war in Syria reaches its 10th year and continues to be one of the worst humanitarian crises.

US Aid to Syria

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken announced that the U.S. would contribute $600 million in aid during a conference titled “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” in Brussels. At the conference, Blinken said, “There is no military solution that will bring peace, security and stability to Syria and the region.” He then continued, “Systemic corruption and economic mismanagement at the hands of the Assad regime have exacerbated the dire humanitarian crisis, which has been further compounded by the challenge of COVID-19.”

At the figure of roughly $600 million, this amount is slightly less than the 2020 pledge from the U.S. where the U.S. aimed to contribute $700 million in Syrian aid. However, the United States still remains the largest donor in Syrian response efforts. In fact, the U.S. has contributed almost $13 billion to the cause since 2011.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also addressed the announcement of the Syrian aid at a press briefing. She confirmed, “This funding brings the total U.S. government humanitarian assistance to nearly $13 billion since the start of the decade-long crisis.” She further stated that the monetary assistance includes nearly $141 million in support of the COVID-19 pandemic efforts in the Syrian region. This assistance will provide humanitarian relief to the Syrians still living inside Syria as well as the 5.6 million Syrian refugees in asylum countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

A Commitment to Continued Support

The pledge of $600 million from the U.S. also illustrates a break from the Trump administration’s efforts to cut aid to Syria and foreign assistance funding. However, even despite Trump’s opposition, Congress for the most part disagreed and U.S. assistance to Syria remained steady throughout his term. This continued funding comes at a good time as humanitarian needs in Syria has never been greater, according to the United Nations. Roughly 66% of Syrians need humanitarian assistance. Across Syria, UNICEF estimates that more than half a million malnourished children are experiencing stunted growth due to inadequate food and nutrition.

Vulnerable Palestinian Refugees

Meanwhile, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is still advocating for the support of the 440,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria. The UNRWA reports that a shocking 90% of these refugees in Syria are living in absolute poverty. Since the Biden administration pledged to restore relations with Palestinians, the U.S. is expected to resume aid to the relief agency since Trump ceased funding to the UNRWA in 2018.

With significant support from the U.S. and the rest of the international community, the humanitarian crisis in Syria may finally come to an end. Supporting Syrian aid ultimately means supporting the most vulnerable people in desperate need of relief.

Elisabeth Petry
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Refugees' Integration
Integration happens in the workplace, neighborhoods, schools and public spaces. However, problems can appear when many people enter a host state in the same period of time when they have different cultural and religious backgrounds. The European migration crisis is an example of this when a high flow of asylum seekers and migrants arrived in Europe in a short span of time. Syrian refugees’ integration presents Germany with some significant challenges.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

To clearly understand migration, it is essential to study terminologies. There are significant differences between the terms “asylum seeker” and “refugee.” An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In the E.U. context, “asylum seeker is a third-country national or stateless person who has made an application for protection under the Geneva Refugee Convention and Protocol in respect of which a final decision has not yet been taken.”

Meanwhile, refugees are “people who have successfully applied for asylum and have been granted a formal refugee status according to the Geneva Convention of 1951 (GCR) or due to authorizations to stay for humanitarian reasons due to specific national legislation.” In 2015, Europe nearly received 1.3 million asylum applications and almost one-in-five asylum seekers came from non-European countries. The leading origin countries of the asylum seekers were Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Asylum seekers from Syria numbered 378,000 (29% of all Europe’s asylum seekers).

The Flow of Refugees into Germany

The pull factors for asylum seekers are safety and security but they take economic factors into consideration as well. Better economic opportunities make the E.U. an attractive destination among asylum seekers. They risk their life to use dangerous and sometimes deadly routes to reach Europe. As a member state of the E.U., Germany was the essential destination country for asylum seekers. In 2015 and 2016, 1.2 million asylum seekers registered in Germany of which Syrian nationals were the leading group of origin of asylum seekers. In total, 424,907 Syrian refugees applied for asylum in 2015 and 2016.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy is the fundamental reason Germany is a top destination among asylum seekers. In 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, during her speech at the Federal Press Conference, announced emphatically, “Wir schaffen das,” meaning “We can do it,” effectively committing to a permissive asylum policy. Several days later, she stressed that there is no legal limit to the number of asylum seekers that Germany will try to accept from Syria. After permitting a significant number of Syrian refugees to enter Germany, integration became the main goal.

The German Integration Model

In Germany, there are several numbers of different stakeholders involved in the integration process of asylum seekers and refugees. The recognized refugees can participate in the labor market. The federal authorities of the country are responsible for implementing a legal structure for the integration mechanism. They also control language courses and access to the labor market.

The municipalities have a crucial role in the integration process and must implement federal or regional legislation. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, BAMF) is responsible for evolving asylum applications and the execution of general and vocational language courses for refugees. Local education schools carry out the language courses, and in most cases, adult education centers or language courses are responsible for the courses. Furthermore, The Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs’ control, assists asylum seekers and refugees in developing their skills and finding jobs.

Legislation for Migrants

Since late 2014, the German government enforced several new integration policies and changes that aimed to ease the integration of refugees and asylum seekers. In 2016, the new Integration Act emerged to promote mandatory participation in language training and civic orientation. Also, the hours of orientation courses increased from 60 to 100 hours. Still, the structure of language courses remained the same. Under the Integration Act, the condition of receiving permanent residence permits depends on the outcomes of integration. Refugees can obtain permanent residence cards after five years and they should reach the A2 level in German and ensure that they can finance their means of subsistence. Moreover, since January 2016, the government monthly pays was 670 euros per asylum seeker.

The responses of the German government still show room for improvement for better integration of refugees. Nonetheless, the fact that Germany has allowed so many asylum seekers access to it may have helped prevent catastrophe. At the same time, Germany’s new integration policies are helping Syrian refugees obtain better opportunities.

– Tofig Ismayilzada
Photo: Flickr

refugee work in Jordan
In a message to his donors, Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD) CEO Javaid Siddiqui stated, “We are committed to extending a helping hand to our brothers and sisters in need around the world and hope you will continue to be our partner in this journey of service to humanity.” Though the organization has worked in more than 85 countries, Helping Hand has consistently engaged in refugee work in Jordan. Its work in the country is not only admirable but also a reflection of its impactful, long-term service to all of humanity.

In 2013, HHRD established an office in Amman, Jordan as the headquarters for HHRD-MENA. HHRD-MENA is a branch of Helping Hand that focuses on providing relief to the Middle East and North Africa. Since then, Helping Hand has provided clean water, proper food, education, development programs and stable homes for different Syrian and Palestinian refugees throughout Jordan.

Refugees in Jordan

Surrounded by countries suffering from conflict and disaster, Jordan hosts the second-highest number of refugees when comparing population sizes. Since the Syrian war in 2011, it has almost 1.4 million Syrian refugees. As of 2019, around 650,000 of them still have refugee status. Though most of the 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan have received citizenship, 370,000 are currently living in refugee camps in different parts of Jordan. The remaining 84,000 refugees currently living in Jordan are from Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan.

Most of the Syrian refugees live in urban areas and 85% of them are living below the poverty line. Many of the Syrian and Palestinian refugees in the city are not only suffering from poverty but also psychological trauma and lack of educational opportunities. Around 10,000 Syrian refugees are between the border of Syria and Jordan. They live in informal settlements, where access to basic needs and services is minimal and relies on humanitarian aid.

In an interview with The Borgen Project, Abdullah Sheikh, a participant in Helping Hand’s annual Youth for Jordan trip, described the different refugee situations he witnessed during his 2018 visit. “There are various camps, like the organized ones run by the government, which are usually huge. The camps we went to were people who would cross the border and then prop up a makeshift tent. And when I say tent I mean like a towel or a big blanket and a pair of sticks or something.”

Building Temporary Homes

According to Abdullah Sheikh, part of Helping Hand’s refugee work in Jordan involves providing decent shelter to refugees living outside the organized, official camps. During his visit, he assisted in the establishment of what Helping Hand calls a “micro-home.” These caravans replace the handmade shelter of the refugees, providing them with a temporary home until they are safe to return to their homeland. Within the micro-homes are two rooms, a small kitchen, running water and a toilet. Each home costs $5,000.

To install the homes, the team uses a crane to lift the micro-home out of the back of a truck. Then, all the members work together to place the home on rocks to keep it stable. Since the start of the project in 2016, Helping Hand has established 1,000 micro-homes. These homes have benefitted more than 5,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan as well as Lebanon.

Supplying Food and Water

When describing the food situation for the refugees, Abdullah Sheikh noted that it was “different depending on the camp.” He explained, “The [unofficial camps] in the desert, they really just rely on whatever people give them. [The refugees] just have a big tank of water in the middle of the camp and Helping Hand comes and refills it. And the food, Helping Hand would just bring them bread, oil and other things they can use to make food.”

Helping Hand’s food refugee work in Jordan also includes a Ramadan Iftar Tent. There, it provides Iftar meals for families every year. In 2020, it provided 160 families with proper meals. Besides the Iftar Tent, Helping Hand also distributes food packages and donated meat to refugees throughout Jordan all year round. In just May 2020, the team distributed a total of 3,000 food packages. Helping Hand also provides drinking water within the food packages.

Developing Programs and Schools

A big part of Helping Hand’s refugee work in Jordan involves educating children. Another major component is providing resources for adults to develop life skills. Just in 2019, Helping Hand provided 800 men and women in Jordan with life skill training through its development program.

Many of the women participated in the development programs near the HHRD-MENA office in Amman. The purpose of this specific program is to teach women different careers to earn a living. These careers include sewing, other crafts and computer training. With knowledge of finance and different skills, the women from this program can secure an income by opening up their own businesses and/or obtaining a job. Abdullah Sheikh says that his team had the opportunity to buy some of the products of the current trainees.

Through the Education Support Program, Helping Hand also provided 1,590 Syrian refugee children with basic education scholarships and tutoring in 2020. The organization gave seven students four-year scholarships to the University of Jordan.

Spending Time with Children

“My favorite part was when we played soccer in the camps in Mafraq near the Syrian border, with some of the kids there. It was just fun,” said Abdullah Sheikh. Throughout his visit with Helping Hand, he spent a lot of time playing with the refugee children his team came in contact with. “Some of the camps we went to twice. So, we bought [the kids] a soccer ball and then played with them again, because the ball they had was super messed up.”

During their visit to the refugee orphanages located in Amman, Jordan, the 2018 Youth for Jordan team went to a strip mall with some of the orphans. There, they played games and enjoyed rides. Another one of the days, the team spent the day with young Palestinian boys in a skills development program. Later during the week, they drove out to the Dead Sea where they hung out at the beach.

From building homes to providing support to helping children, all of Helping Hand’s refugee work in Jordan is a reflection of the organization’s hard work and dedication. In Jordan and around the world, humanitarian organizations have the ability to make a significant impact on the lives of refugees.

Maryam Tori
Photo: Flickr

Refugees in Austria
According to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a human right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. The number of refugees around the world has doubled since 2010, from 40 million to 79 million in 2019. During the Syrian War, where nearly 1.3 million migrants sought asylum in the E.U. in 2015, Austria became a crossing point. At the peak of the crisis, 89,000 people applied for asylum in the country, though it only accepted 15,000. The relationship with refugees in Austria is paradoxical in nature. Even though the country has accepted more refugees in the past few years, animosity toward these refugees is rising. These refugees face difficulties integrating into the Austrian society, forcing them into the outskirts of society and into poverty. At the same time, several initiatives continue to help support these refugees in creative ways.

The History of Relocation

In the past century, Austria experienced three main waves of refugees. The first came after 1945, where 1.6 million Jews, Hungarians, Romanians, Yugoslavians and German Poles escaped persecution from Germany. Only about 19% of these refugees stayed permanently in Austria. Another wave of 180,000 Hungarians, Czechoslovakians, Poles and Jews from the Soviet Union sought refuge in Austria in the 1960s. Only 10% of the Hungarian refugees stayed. The last major wave occurred in 1981 after the Polish Solidarity movements caused the country to become unstable. About 66,000 of the estimated 160,000 stayed in Austria. The last major wave came to Austria in 2015. That year, 89,000 mainly Syrians, Afghani and Iraqi applied for asylum.

Though Austria received international aid to handle the influx of refugees, the public still called refugees ‘ungrateful.’ Critics accused refugees of taking away jobs and housing from native-born Austrians. Since 1956, Austria has considered itself a place of first arrival and transit, but not as a place of resettlement. When the first 2015 refugees came, Austrians were welcoming toward the newcomers, waiting at the borders with supplies and support. Three years after the Syrian refugee crisis, public opinion shifted dramatically. It polarized, negatively affecting the relationship with refugees in Austria. The legislative election of 2017 brought a right-wing majority to the Austrian federal government, cementing the feelings of animosity toward refugees. By 2018, three years later, most 2015 refugees were still waiting on the results of their applications. Refugees coming to Austria face several problems, from the moment of their arrival to their integration at the economic and social levels.

Arrival

For Austrian authorities to consider a person a refugee, that individual must prove they are fleeing from persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. The Austrian police determine this during an interview with the potential refugees. There are, however, several ways to redirect these asylum-seekers in Austria. Under the Dublin Regulation, if a migrant does not receive asylum, they must go back to their country within six months. Austria also has a ‘fast track’ procedure that speeds up the asylum process when a migrant comes from a country that the government considers to be ‘safe.’ The historical mindset of sending people back immediately puts potential victims of human trafficking at risk. Moreover, gay people who come from countries that Austria considers ‘safe’ are at higher risk when they have to return to countries they fled. This is because these countries may prosecute queer people and women (who authorities do not question separately from male relatives).

According to the UN, host countries have a duty of care to identify the vulnerable situations of each migrant. In Austria, however, the identification methods are ‘random and unsystematic,’ where intervention occurs only when the vulnerabilities are visible or the asylum seekers state them themselves. This diminishes the rights of migrants to individual assessment, limiting their access to counseling, rehab and health services.

Economic Problems

Just over 1.2 million people in Austria were in danger of falling into poverty. While poverty threatened 39% of people with migration backgrounds in 2018, this percentage was 50% for people from non-European lands. Without these jobs, refugees are often at risk of falling into poverty. In 2019, 11% of people in poverty were from foreign lands, compared to 6.4% of Austrians. In total, 64% of people with migration backgrounds had employment. Syrians had the highest unemployment rate at 61.8%.

Access to the Austrian labor market as a refugee has limitations, especially before their claims for asylum have received acceptance. Even with diplomas from their home countries, Austria does not always recognize these diplomas. In 2016, about 22% of people with migration backgrounds were overqualified for their jobs.

Other major barriers to entry include discrimination, lack of social capital (both between members of the same ethnicity and with Austrians) and unfamiliarity with cultural nuances of how the host country’s labor market works. According to Amy Dudgeon, who has worked for more than 27 years with refugees and immigrants in New Orleans, Louisiana through Catholic Charities, a religious organization that provides immigration and refugee services, “The number one thing is the language barrier.”

Social Problems

The relationship with refugees in Austria is especially troubling in social integration. There is a rising intolerance for refugees in Austria. Though 41% of the population in 2020 agreed that Austria should help refugees, this is down from 51% in 2018. About 61% of the population also saw the coexistence of refugees and Austrians as ‘bad.’ Refugees themselves felt the discrimination. In fact, around 73% of people felt that their skin color, accent or where they come from caused them to face discrimination.

Finding Creative Solutions

These problems are not separate. In fact, there exists a causal link from social integration to labor market integration. When refugees create relationships within their ethnic communities, they can overcome their initial isolation and heighten their chances of getting their first job. Even better job opportunities open when refugees form relationships with people from Austria, as Austrians have insider and cultural knowledge about navigating the local labor market and job-searching process.

As Dudgeon pointed out, “I’ve met so many different people in so many different vocations in their home country, and then they come here and they can’t speak English so they have to do menial jobs. Just keeping an open mind, that just because they can’t speak English … it’s not an indicator of their intelligence or experience or anything like that.”

After two years, the employment rates of refugees start to converge with Austrian-born and other migrants. After seven years, they are as likely to receive employment as non-European migrants. The following organizations have found ways to aid refugees in Austria.

Organizations Helping Refugees in Austria

  1. Caritas: Caritas is one of Austria’s largest emergency help organizations of the Catholic Church. It has more than 16,000 employees, 50,000 volunteers and thousands of projects a year. Projects range from combatting homelessness to caring for young mothers. To support refugees, the organization offers “Lerncafes,” where children from 6 to 15 can receive free help for completing homework or learning German. Through interactions with both local volunteers and other refugees, these refugee youth learn how to integrate more fully into society. Additionally, these interactions prepare them to enter the job market.
  2. The Austrian Integrations Fonds (ÖIF): The ÖIF is an organization that the Republic of Austria and UNHCR created in the 1960s to help manage the influx of Hungarian refugees. Today, the organization helps all migrants integrate into Austrian society. One of its main targets is language learning with a focus on integrating refugees into the job market. To reach this goal, the organization offers free German-language lessons. The lessons range from beginner to advanced, with special courses involving business-specific knowledge. In 2017, the Austrian government spent 25 million Euros to support this organization, which allowed it to offer 20,000 spots to new language learners.
  3. CoRE Project: Beginning in 2016, this project brought together five partners, from NGOs to local governments. Together, they worked on a holistic approach to integrating refugees in Vienna, Austria, home to the largest number of refugees in the country. The project focused on empowering refugees by offering volunteer activities for them to take part in. By finding them places to volunteer, the project fought social exclusion, racism and intolerance. All the while, the refugees built personal and professional skills and competencies. Volunteering ensured that integration was a two-way street: refugees were able to give back to the country that took them in, making them equal citizens. Some volunteer organizations include Deutsch ohne Grenzen (German without Borders), which offers German language courses, free time activities and workshops around the topic of immigration.
  4. Refugees for Refugees (R4R): Refugees have been running this organization for refugees since 2015. The 150 members of R4R form events and activities that members can take part in, bringing refugees together through sport and culture. The organization, for example, regularly visits museums to help refugees integrate themselves into Austrian society.
  5. OLIVE: To help refugees and people of asylum status connect their previous professional and academic experience to their new lives in Europe, the University of Vienna offers free academic, bilingual non-degree programs. Some branches of the program include OLIVE Women and OLIVE Youth. These branches feature relevant seminars for each group to help them achieve both academic and professional goals.

Though the relationship with refugees in Austria is paradoxical, these five initiatives prove that Austria is beginning to decrease the discrimination that refugees in Austria face today.

Charlotte Ehlers
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Lebanon
Human trafficking in Lebanon is rampant and requires reform. Someone once asked Paul, a volunteer for the Catholic Church in Beirut, Lebanon, how he knows that most female prostitutes are trafficking victims? Paul answered that when he attempted to help a trafficking victim contact an NGO, her captors assaulted him.

The Situation

Paul is just one of the many workers on the frontlines fighting against human trafficking in Lebanon. Lebanon’s government is improving its work to stop human trafficking, but Lebanon remains on Tier 2 according to the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report. The Tier 2 standing means that Lebanon has not met the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking.

Human traffickers target certain groups such as Syrian refugees, illegal migrants, domestic workers and women with artiste visas. Employers lure in workers and artistes under the guise of employment and then withhold their wages or passports to control them. Meanwhile, migrants and refugees come into the country with nothing leaving them open to capture. Poverty affects these targeted groups making it easier for employers and traffickers to control them. Lebanon has struggled with human trafficking because of various problems, including its past legislation and misguided judicial system.

Human Trafficking Issues in Need of Reform

  1. Lebanon’s human trafficking network is immense. The International Security Forces (ISF) and General Directorate of General Security (GDS) commented that even traffickers further down the chain of command contact more extensive organized networks. Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, and the town of Jounieh are where most human trafficking victims end up. Even though the ISF was able to identify 29 trafficking victims in 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes the number of victims is in the thousands.
  2. The country’s laws place a significant strain on the victims because women can work as licensed prostitutes, but Lebanon’s government has not supplied licenses since the 1970s. However, after 1990, the country made secret prostitution, or prostitution without a license, illegal. Foreign women come to Lebanon to work as dancers in nightclubs under an artiste visa. The visa’s terms restrict the women to the hotels they live in and give nightclub owners power over the women allowing them to withhold their wages and passports. Traffickers also exploit these women through physical or sexual abuse.
  3. Ashraf Rifi, who served as minister of justice between 2014 and 2016, and ISF director-general from 2005 to 2013, commented that Lebanon needs to change how it combats human trafficking. Rifi went on to mention how there is corruption at high levels and even corruption within the ISF. In 2018, authorities arrested Johnny Haddad, the head of an ISF department, on charges of corruption involving prostitution networks. The organization’s ethics committee placed him under investigation. If anti-trafficking organizations’ leaders experience compromise, fighting traffickers becomes even more difficult than it was before.
  4. For trafficking victims in Lebanon, the courts frequently show no remorse. After studying 34 different trafficking cases, lawyer Ghida Frangieh concluded a double standard in the judge’s treatment concerning prostitution and begging. Forced begging cases nearly always received the label of being a trafficking case, while in the case of prostitution, the judge would frequently find there was some level of consent. The problem here is that the U.N. Convention on Human Trafficking stated that consent is irrelevant in trafficking cases because traffickers could beat or kill victims if they do not consent.

Even though Lebanon struggles with human trafficking, it is making progress in combatting these human traffickers. Lebanon has focused on improving its identification of trafficking victims and bringing shadowy trafficking networks into the light.

How Lebanon is Fighting Against Human Trafficking

  1. In 2016, Lebanon shut down Chez Maurice, the largest human trafficking network in the country. Chez Maurice held more than 75 Syrian women in a house with blacked-out windows, only allowed to leave to have abortions or receive treatment for venereal disease. The organization lured the Syrian refugees by offering them jobs, such as restaurant work, and then imprisoned them. While there, the captors sexually and psychologically abused the women. After discovering the human trafficking network, authorities took those responsible into custody, and they are currently awaiting trial.
  2. Lebanon’s government has yet to completely satisfy the minimum requirements for human trafficking’s eradication, but it is making significant strides to change that. The government increased investigations into trafficking cases and improved its ability to identify trafficking victims. For example, in 2016, the ISF only investigated 20 human trafficking cases, while in 2018, it investigated 45 cases. This change may show an improvement in identifying trafficking victims. Lebanon’s government has improved its relationships with NGOs such as Legal Agenda or Kafa, leading to more effective cooperation with screening possible victims in government-controlled migrant detention facilities.
  3. The government has done great work investigating potential human trafficking cases, but it still has room for improvement. The GDS reported 124 of 167 cases, which ended with a referral to authorities for investigation, giving back pay to workers and repatriation for migrant workers. The MOJ reported prosecutor referred about 38 cases to judges for further analysis leading to 69 alleged traffickers’ prosecutions involving different types of human trafficking. Since numerous cases have overloaded Lebanon’s judicial system, it took time to resolve these cases, but the system settled them, nonetheless.

Lebanon is steadily improving in its fight against human trafficking. Human trafficking in Lebanon is still happening, but its people continue to work towards eradicating it.

– Solomon Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Syrian Refugees in Turkey
The war in Syria is a long-standing conflict with severe consequences. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions are still affected by the violence. Nearly 6.5 million people are displaced within Syria, while another 4.5 million have fled Syria since the conflict began. Turkey has received the largest number of refugees, a vast majority requiring medical attention and financial assistance. Here are five facts about the health of Syrian refugees in Turkey and what is being done to help them.

5 Facts About the Health of Syrian Refugees in Turkey

  1. Mental health services are in huge demand. Refugees of all ages are at a higher risk of common mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety PTSD. Dr. Jalal Nofel is a psychiatrist based at the Relief International Mental Health Center and has worked directly with a multitude of refugees. In an interview, Dr. Nofel noted the most frequently treated illness is PTSD. He noted that many “have lost family members and they face financial problems and a vague future.” Six mental health centers span the country, offering a variety of treatments from therapy and medications.
  2. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are in need of prosthetics. According to Relief International, 1.5 million refugees have permanent impairments and over 80,000 of those have lost limbs. Just a mile from the Syrian border resides the National Syrian Project for Prosthetic Limbs (NSPPL), which specializes in building prosthetics and providing physical therapy. This center sees about 10 patients per day and creates nearly 500 personalized prosthetics a year. NSPPL is just the beginning for prosthetic care, however. With 12 centers across Turkey, 30,450 patients were treated by Relief International in 2018.
  3. Refugees face struggles in regards to nutrition and sanitation. 30-40% of hospitalized patients are classified as malnourished and these numbers rapidly increase in the elderly population. Clean water is also scarce for Syrian refugees. In an article from the Human Rights Watch, an aid worker disclosed that water trucking for camps along the Syria/Turkey border only provides for about 50% of the population. The quality of this water is also lower than pumped water.
  4. Diseases and epidemics, both chronic and viral, plague the population. According to a study by the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, not only are refugees fighting tuberculosis, leishmaniasis and brucellosis, but also gastrointestinal diseases and bacterial meningitis. COVID-19 has also increasingly made life difficult for Syrian refugees in Turkey, as most reside in dense living spaces which enables a rapid spread of the virus. The global pandemic has also had an effect on refugees’ role in the Turkish economy. According to a survey, about 69% of refugees have reported unemployment or suspension of business activity.
  5. Turkey is working to enable refugee recovery. In 2014, the country established a new ID system and temporary protection system, which gave legal immigrants access to the free healthcare system. Although these medical services are free, medicine is not always free. Most refugees are forced to forfeit a large portion of their limited income for medicine. To help further improve healthcare in Turkey, the WHO is working with local NGOs to train medical professionals to deal with the influx of patients.

As more media attention is given to this humanitarian crisis, the sooner aid and a sense of peace can be bestowed to these displaced people. Moving forward, it is essential that the government and other humanitarian organizations continue to prioritize the health of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Amanda J Godfrey
Photo: Flickr

Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Jordan, Turkey and LebanonOver 2.5 million children have been displaced by the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria. About 1.5 million children live in the neighboring counties of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. These children have experienced fear, terror, poverty, hunger and uncertainty. Once settled in their new homes, over half still do not have access to the formal education they need. A high cost for tuition and materials, lack of transportation to the school and a language barrier all prevent these children from receiving the education they deserve. Universal education for Syrian refugee children has become a daunting and essential task for Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

The governments of these three nations and other organizations such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Human Rights Watch are working to ensure that each of these 1.5 million children receives the education they deserve. Here are some of the steps providing education for Syrian refugee children in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

Educating Syrian Children in Turkey

The 2016-2017 academic year was the first year in Turkey in which more Syrian children were in school than out of it. Roughly 490,000 children or 60% of the population received some form of formal education. Upon arrival in Turkey, these children attend a UNICEF-supported program called the TEC (formally Temporary Education Center, now the Transitional Education Center). These centers exist both inside and outside the refugee camps. In addition, it educates 64% of Syrian children in school in Turkey and offers courses in their native language. Sometimes the courses are at low or no cost to the families.

The Turkish Ministry on National Education (MoNE) is slowly integrating children who attend TECs into Turkish state schools. The issue of language barriers continues to be addressed and MoNE plans to fully assimilate Syrian children into Turkish schools by the end of 2020. This is a goal that was established prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Educating Syrian Children in Jordan

Jordan has made great strides in recent years, with only 10% of Syrian children not receiving primary school education. The government and other organizations such as Program Aid, Islamic Relief and Human Rights Watch have worked together to ensure that each child receives formal education in some form.

However, this support ends when the children grow older. The enrollment rate for Syrian students drops significantly, from 90% in primary schools to less than 30% in secondary schools. In June 2020, a 61-page report entitled “I Want to Continue to Study: Barriers to Secondary Education for Syrian Refugee Children in Jordan” came out. It details the struggles of refugee children once they transition out of primary school. Additionally, Human Rights Watch encourages Jordan and other countries to take action to ensure that every Syrian children’s education continues after primary school.

Educating Syrian Children in Lebanon

Roughly 57% of the 448,000 school-aged Syrian refugee children in Lebanon are enrolled in public school. This number is growing each academic year. The Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MEHE) has received financial support from UNHCR, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other organizations. As a result, this enables MEHE to provide free education for Syrian refugee children (as well as Lebanese children) through the twelfth grade. This program, entitled Reaching All Children With Education (RACE), initiated a sharp increase in enrollment. In addition, MEHE opened 376 new schools between the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years. UNHCR also provides resources for children not yet enrolled in school, both in the community and in the schools themselves. This is to ensure that children receive the education they need.

Many Syrian refugees still remain out of school. However, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have all made great strides in making education more accessible for Syrian children. Ensuring education for Syrian refugee children has not been an easy task. Yet, these countries have worked hard to make it possible for these children to receive the education they deserve.

Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr