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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

Syria_NGO_Aid
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

UNICEF and Syria's Lost GenerationA lost generation of children is quite a dramatic phrase. One would expect it to define a group of children whose duress has gone unnoticed. For the children in Syria, it’s a slightly different case. As the reports of casualties are noted every day, the biggest issue should be the loss of not only physical life but the psychological well being of children and their futures. Their plight, however, is overshadowed by external, as well as internal, desires to cease political unrest and see a new regime replace al-Assad’s.

UNICEF has been working consistently both inside and outside of Syria to try to maintain some level of balance and peace in the lives of these children. By first addressing their basic needs, 4 million people who have remained in Syria now have access to clean drinking water. 1.5 million children have received vaccinations against polio and measles. And aside from the 6% of children who are currently still able to attend school, 75,000 have been lucky enough to attend ‘school clubs’ to keep up with their education. Even for the quarter-million refugee children, UNICEF has managed to extend its basic services as well as offering protection against abuse and exploitation, two things all too common in the chaotic and insecure camps.

Resources are limited, however. Despite its plea for $195 million to continue support until June of this year, the UN reports that only 20% of that requested funding has been given. About 2 months after this request, former Senator-now-Secretary of State John Kerry announced the $60 million apparent ‘non-lethal’ aid package to Syrian rebels. While terms of ‘non-lethal’ and ‘food and medical supplies’ are tossed around, there is no direct language addressing the key issues that are important to every single person and party involved directly and indirectly in this conflict.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that his goals are to support the rebels in preventing and stopping President Bashar al-Assad from staging attacks against his own people. While the US government is set on securing the future of Syria, it seems only logical that they would realize that without providing psychological services, safe havens of learning, and adequate medical facilities to Syrian children, there will be a bleak future for Syria.

The trauma and permanent damage UNICEF reports are inevitable for Syria’s lost generation. It is going to affect the politics, economy, and every aspect of their country once they become of age and replace the current generation.

Eliot Engel, the Senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio sat down to discuss how “providing military aid to Syria’s opposition would bring the humanitarian disaster to an end” in hopes of continuing a peaceful relationship with Syria after Assad’s rule. Engel is currently pushing for the US’s active involvement in training and arming ‘some’ rebels (although he graciously adds that humanitarian assistance will be provided as well).

Such an obvious focus on expanding the degree of fighting is not going to bring the civil war to an end. While that question requires a great deal more of serious thought, it would hopefully require a lot less hesitation to understand that the safety and education of Syria’s children, both in and outside of the country, require immediate attention and aid.

– Deena Dulgerian

Sources: UN News Centre, Yahoo News, NPR

Take a Quiz - Feed a Family in SyriaBy taking this short quiz, participants can literally feed a family in Syria. Sponsored and facilitated by the UN World Food Program (WFP), the five questions survey will help you learn more about the crisis in Syria and how the WFP is responding.

The questions range from the cost of living expenses to refugee status. One question asks, “Of all the refugees now living in Jordan how many are women & children?” Answer: of this particular Jordanian population of 60,000 refugees – 75% are women & children. The WFP provides nutritious ready-to-eat meals for anyone in need.

The UN has just counted the one-millionth refugee coming out of Syria. More than 70,000 people have died and two million have been internally displaced since the conflict began almost two years ago. Starting as demonstrations against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the protests quickly turned violent as opponents of Mr. Assad took up arms against the brutal crackdown coming from the authorities. There is still no resolution in sight.

Find out more – and feed a family in Syria for a day.

– Mary Purcell

Source: WFP, BBC
Photo: unostamps

Syrian_Opposition_US_Aid
Secretary of State John Kerry announced earlier this week during his first overseas trip that the U.S. will provide $60 million in aid to Syrian opposition forces. Kerry said that the aid will focus on food and medical supplies, in what he termed “non-lethal assistance.”

Syrian rebels, who have been fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for nearly two years, had not received any aid from the U.S. up until Kerry’s pledge this week. Kerry asserted that the aid will help Syrian opposition forces end the long fight to oust al-Assad and will help secure the region and avoid possible attempts of an Iranian or Hezbollah takeover in Damascus.

Besides being a security threat, the fighting has seen over 60,000 people killed and as many as 940,000 refugees forced to flee the region. Another State Department official stated that if the Syrian opposition is unable to secure the region once al-Assad’s regime is gone, it is likely that extremist groups will step in and take control.

Along with the $60 million that the U.S. will give to the opposition group, the Syrian National Council, the U.S. has also pledged $385 million in humanitarian aid.

The United States, along with the European Council, have stated that they are still discussing different means of aid for the opposition forces, with France considering sending tactical gear such as “night-vision equipment or body armor.” The Obama Administration is reportedly considering providing training and tactical supplies to Syrian rebels.

Christina Kindlon

Source: CNN
Photo: Politico

Emerging Powers Stepping Up Humanitarian Aid for Syria
In a recent UN donor conference for Syria, a 1.5 billion dollar donation was pledged to help provide humanitarian aid for Syria, of which two-thirds came from the non-western world powers. Last year, contributions coming from Brazil, Russia, India, China and the Middle Eastern Gulf countries only made up about 5% of all contributions to Syria. This marks a shift from the historically Western-dominated world of humanitarian aid as non-western world powers begin to make more of an impact.

Contributions from non-western countries have more often than not come from less traditional avenues of humanitarian aid that are not transparent and hard to track. These channels allow these countries total control of their contribution and all credit for their actions. The recent development in donations from non-western countries has resulted in tension between the emerging powers and the West in terms of who will ultimately get credit and gain influence for these donations. However, if this recent trend leads to a proper dialogue that reevaluates some of the current flaws in humanitarian aid, it may be a boon for all parties involved.

The Western states and emerging powers both have valid reasons for being wary of the others’ operations. The West believes that their established humanitarian system has worked well to help people around the world and that other countries should funnel their money through them, lest the funds get lost or misused due to inexperience. On the other hand, the emerging powers do not want to give their funds to Western humanitarian agencies that they have no control over and that do not completely reflect their own interests.

The recent donor conference to provide humanitarian aid for Syria is a step in the right direction for all parties involved. This is not only because of the important support it provides for Syrian refugees in the short term, but also because it brings many countries which often oppose each other into a dialogue to support a common cause.

The Western countries have a system of humanitarian aid that needs to make itself more inclusive toward the emerging world powers as well as restructure some of the ways that it uses its funds. Non-Western countries would benefit from joining a system that is more structured and includes themselves in the group of already established powers. Despite the fact that the donor conference in Syria is a positive action for both sides, the most important factor is not to lose sight of those in need of humanitarian aid due to political issues.

– Sean Morales

Source: AlertNet
Photo: The Independent

Fundraising Goal for Syria Far ExceededAs the civil war in Syria rages, the international community is working hard to provide the aid and resources needed to help struggling refugees inside and outside the nation. Syrian refugees have fled to neighboring countries Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, and the cost of aid keeps rising.

Recently, a donors’ conference held in Kuwait decided to raise and contribute a goal of $1.5 billion in foreign aid on January 31. This amount far exceeds the U.N.’s expected goal. Among the largest donors included conference host country Kuwait. Also, Gulf nations Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the United States and the United Kingdom donated most in the fundraising efforts. Additional donors include EU member states, Morocco, Iraq, and others totaling to more than 40 countries.

The aid monies will be distributed amongst two U.N.-led initiatives, the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan and the Regional Response Plan. These plans will aid in the collection and distribution of food, medical services and temporary shelters and maintenance of refugee camps outside of Syria.

With more than two million total displaced people, most serious needs include basic necessities like food, shelter and education. As the amount of refugees increases, the U.N. has released that over half of those individuals are children. NGO bodies like UNICEF and UNHCR are working hard to provide students with educational opportunities. The U.S. has increased its efforts in the regions as well.

As of February 6, President Obama pledged an additional $155 million, bringing the U.S. aid total to $365 million. Poverty in this country is growing with the ongoing conflict, but U.S. and global funds and other methods of aid continue to pour into this region as the war persists.

Kristyn Greco

Sources: PBS, Euronews, UNICEF USA, Irin News
Photo: Washington Post

Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General
Kofi Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations preceding the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. In a recent town hall-style discussion at Yale University, reports Jim Shelton of the New Haven Register, the former U.N. official reflected on his tenure, during which he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for his work in advocating on the issue of HIV/AIDS and other global issues. Annan also expressed his support for reforming the U.N.

He stressed that reform was necessary both in expanding the membership of the U.N Security Council, which has five permanent and ten non-permanent members, and addressing the issue of global poverty, which is one of the Millennium Development Goals due to be re-examined in 2015.

Annan’s most recent and well-known diplomacy role has been as the U.N.’s envoy to the Arab League during the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2012. Annan’s frustration with the inaction of the U.N. in addressing the issue famously led him not to renew his contract for the position of envoy in August 2012.

Annan said the U.S. and Russia must lead the way in shaping international consensus on a solution in Syria. Otherwise, a “chaotic collapse” there may lead to ethnic cleansing and ever greater global tension,” writes Shelton.

Kofi Annan’s urging towards effective diplomatic action is a rallying cry for nations to help assuage the mounting violence in Syria. With all the respect garnered through his long history of international diplomacy, we can only hope that Annan’s colleagues in the U.N. heed his advice.

– Nina Narang

Sources: New Haven Register, United Nations, BBC
Photo: The Elders