Radical change needed for older, disabled and injured Syrian refugeesRead more
Takoma Park, Maryland — One month after the adoption of Security Council resolution 2139, assessments show that progress on humanitarian access in Syria has been very limited.
Assessments estimate that more than 3.5 million people are still cut off from food and medication, say eight aid agencies. When the United Nations Security Council takes stock of progress on humanitarian access this Friday, they have to be honest about the lack of progress. The Council needs to act to ensure that this resolution is implemented immediately to provide life-saving aid to millions of Syrians.
“I talk with my family and friends, who are still trapped inside Syria almost every day," said a refugee volunteer in Jordan. "They do not have access to food or medication. People are starving to death. One of our neighbors has fallen into a diabetic coma, because she could not access insulin anymore."
According to the UN, more than 9.3 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian aid inside Syria. “Dedicated aid agencies are ready to cross battle lines, borders, rivers and mountains – whatever is required to end the human suffering in Syria," said Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council. "There is no excuse for not facilitating a lot more cross-border aid operations."
“Behind the headlines are people inside Syria for whom this war is a bitter, daily reality," said Thierry-Mehdi Benlahsen, Regional Emergency Coordinator Handicap International. "This crisis might appear complex in political terms, but is dramatically simpler in humanitarian ones. Through humanitarian assistance we cannot stop this war, but we can reduce people’s suffering and dying in the absence of a peaceful political solution. The UN Security Council needs to strengthen the implementation of the resolution including detailed monitoring mechanisms and ensure that much needed humanitarian assistance reaches the people trapped inside Syria."
More than 9 million people have fled their homes and remain displaced within Syria or to neighboring countries three years after the crisis started.
“The growing plight of millions of Syrians underscores the importance of making UNSC resolution 2139 a success," said Mark Schnellbaecher, Regional Director of the International Rescue Committee. "Every day that passes without progress on humanitarian access, is the worst day yet for Syrians struggling to survive."
International aid agencies welcome the fact that the UN was able to send an aid convoy from Turkey to Syria bringing additional humanitarian assistance to so far provided only by NGOs, however this is a small step and much more access is needed. In the past weeks insecurity continued to interrupt aid distributions, and access remains highly constrained as violence is ongoing across the country. In neighbouring countries, the numbers of refugees arriving has been increasing during March because of increasing insecurity. The number of newly arrived refugees in Jordan per month is the highest number this year.
“Syria cannot remain a symbol for humanitarian and political failure," said Roger Hearn, Save the Children’s Regional Director. "The UN Security Council needs to ensure the resolution is implemented and becomes a reality on the ground for the millions of Syrians in need Syrian children cannot wait any longer.”
SIRF members: Danish Refugee Council, Handicap International, Hand in Hand for Syria, International Rescue Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council, Relief International, Save the Children, World Vision
Takoma Park, Maryland — As President Obama weighs the possibility of launching strikes on Syria following the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, Handicap International urges the United States government to avoid any use of cluster munitions.
For more than three decades, Handicap International has witnessed and responded to the devastation wrought by cluster bombs. Designed to break open in mid-air, cluster bombs release hundreds of bomblets, or submunitions, over an area that can be as large as several football fields. When submunitions explode, they fire hundreds of fragments of metal that travel at the speed of a bullet. Not only are cluster munitions indiscriminate weapons that kill and maim innocent men, women, and children when deployed, but many submunitions fail to explode on impact and become de facto landmines that continue to pose a fatal threat to civilians decades after conflict has ended.
An August 27 New York Times article noted that any U.S. strikes “are expected to involve scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from American destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea…” Tomahawk missiles can carry different types of payloads—including cluster submunitions. One particular missile model type—which has been reportedly used by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia, Sudan, and as recently as 2009 in Yemen—can carry a payload of 166 BLU-97 cluster bomblets.
“Make no mistake: a BLU-97 cluster bomb is not a targeted weapon, and the submunitions that fail to detonate will haunt Syrians for years after the conflict ends,” said Elizabeth MacNairn, Executive Director of Handicap International-US. “Such unexploded bomblets, which look like toys to children and can tempt those searching for valuable scrap metal, will result in death and disabling injuries.”
The U.S. is not a States Party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions an international treaty signed by 112 countries banning the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions.
Handicap International is an impartial aid organization, and does not make comment on whether or not the U.S. should take military action. However, MacNairn noted that any use of cluster munitions would “put the very Syrians the U.S. is hoping to protect in serious danger. A full recovery in Syria would be stalled until all unexploded bomblets could be cleared—a careful, dangerous process that would take years to complete.”
About Handicap International
Co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 31 years. Working alongside persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our actions and testimony focus on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since 1982, Handicap International has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects and to increase the impact of the organization's principles and actions. Handicap International is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and winner of the 2011 Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Handicap International takes action and campaigns in places where “standing tall” is no easy task. Handicap International has been working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan since the summer of 2012. www.handicap-international.us
In January 2013, Abeer Ameen, 23, joined Handicap International’s emergency mission as a physical therapist in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. She sent this update in August:
Many Syrian refugees living outside camps across countries in the region are losing out on the help they desperately need, according to five international aid agencies today.
Takoma Park, Maryland — CARE International, Oxfam, Danish Refugee Council, Handicap International and World Vision are increasingly concerned that with more than 1.4 million – 80 percent of all Syrian refugees – living in tents, temporary settlements, or over-crowded and expensive rented accommodation, the international response is failing to match the scale of the crisis.
Neighboring countries are struggling to cope with the huge number of refugees. In Lebanon Syrians make up a quarter of the population1 and are living in at least 1,200 locations. Just 131,000 of the half a million refugees who fled to Jordan are living in Zaatari camp. Many refugees, particularly those scattered outside cities across the region, struggle to get information on the support services that are available to them.
The aid agencies say that the international community must massively step up its response to the growing crisis.
"People are living in shopping centers, empty garages or make-shift tents on derelict land. They are struggling to survive on little or nothing, and many are falling through the cracks. With no immediate end in sight to the conflict the problem will only get worse. The UN describes this as the biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and we need to make sure assistance reaches refugees no matter where they are,” said Oxfam’s Syria Response manager, Colette Fearon.
The aid agencies are calling on donor countries to dig deep and find more money to help them scale up the humanitarian response, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon which are hosting more than a million refugees between them. There is also a growing need to support host communities and governments, where basic services are coming under pressure from increased use.
At the same time, almost seven million people – a third of the population – are desperately in need of aid inside Syria.
In June the UN launched its largest ever humanitarian appeal for $5 billion to support the Syria crisis but has only received 36 percent of the money required.
Due to the huge number of people fleeing the conflict, refugees are pursuing whatever options they can to find shelter. Many arrive with just the clothes on their backs and need help to cover basic costs such as food, safe drinking water and a roof over their heads.
Health care has become a luxury that many cannot afford. For people with injuries, the situation is especially critical as the lack of available services often leads to further impairments. Vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and persons with disabilities or chronic disease, do not have access to essential services, unless they are offered by organizations like Handicap International.
According to World Vision, rents in parts of Lebanon have soared, often by as much as 200 percent in just a six month period. Though rents are increasing, employment opportunities and pay have not kept pace. In Lebanon, where refugees are prohibited from working in many professions, jobs that are available are usually poorly-paid and offer little or no security. While some agencies, including CARE International and Oxfam, are offering cash support to help refugees pay their rent, this is not a long-term solution.
“People left Syria with nothing and are trying to carve out a new life for themselves. But they are starting from scratch and everything is expensive. Many are getting into increasing debt in order to survive,” said Hugh Fenton, Danish Refugee Council Regional Director in North Africa and the Middle East.
“The international response so far has failed to meet the basic needs of the majority of the refugees, putting them at risk of further hardship and suffering. We need donor countries to dig deep and increase funding so aid agencies can expand their relief efforts. With the number of refugees rising and their needs increasing, it is critical the international community do more to fill the funding gap that is preventing us helping more people: failure to do so could be catastrophic."
The agencies also say fears are mounting of the impact of poor living conditions on refugees’ health. Even amongst those refugees living in rented accommodation, few have access to running water or a separate toilet or bathroom and those living in tents have limited sanitation facilities, increasing the risks of disease particularly given temperatures regularly reach 110F (40C). In Jordan, more than a quarter of refugee households in the Mafraq region have no access to water, while some children living in a tent community in West Balqa could only bathe once every 10 days.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- The Lebanese Government estimates that there are one million Syrians in Lebanon, 650,000 of whom are refugees registered or in the process of registering with UNHCR. The remainder include groups such as migrant workers and their families, professionals and students who are unable to return to Syria.
To interview Handicap International experts, please contact:
Mica Bevington (240) 450-3531
All other media enquiries: please contact Lindsay Clydesdale, Oxfam media officer, +961 76 740 489 or email@example.com
Interviews, pictures and film are available on request.
CARE International has reached about 110,000 Syrians in Jordan, providing cash assistance to pay for basic living costs, including rent, food and clothes, essential relief items and vital information on how to access further health care and social support. In addition, CARE supports Jordanian host communities. In Lebanon, CARE is planning to meet approximately 150,000 refugees’ and vulnerable host communities’ basic and pressing needs. In Egypt, they aim to reach at least 20,000 refugees with cash support and assistance on sexual and gender based violence.
Danish Refugee Council (DRC) has a long history in the region and is currently present in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. More than 550,000 displaced people have received assistance from DRC in the region in the first six months of 2013, more than 300,000 of those inside Syria. DRC’s assistance includes distribution of mattresses, blankets, clothes, hygiene kits, diapers, food and fuel coupons as well as help with shelter and livelihoods.
Handicap International has worked in the Near East since 1987 around development, mine action and emergency activities. Its emergency division is currently working in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan to provide food, non-food items and cash assistance to 80,000 vulnerable persons affected by the Syrian crisis. To date, Handicap International has also identified more than 8,500 people with specific needs (disabilities, injuries, chronic diseases and ageing), channeling them to humanitarian services and providing them with specialized assistance, such as essential physical rehabilitation, prosthesis, mobility devices and psychosocial services.
Oxfam is providing aid to those affected by the crisis in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. To date they have helped more than 250,000 people and plan to help 650,000 by the end of this year. In Lebanon and Jordan, Oxfam is providing vulnerable families with cash assistance to help them afford a place to live and improving access to safe water and sanitation. Infrastructure inside Syria has been badly damaged by the ongoing conflict and Oxfam has started work to provide emergency water and sanitation to up to 300,000 people throughout the country.
World Vision has worked in the region for more than 30 years and is responding to the needs of people fleeing the conflict, in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. World Vision is reaching more than 220,000 people across the three countries with health services, emergency supplies, clean water, sanitation and child protection support.
Takoma Park, Maryland — Fighting in Syria has forced more than 1.6 million people to flee the country and bordering nations, including Jordan and Lebanon, each expect to host one million Syrian refugees by the end of 2013. Today, on this World Refugee Day, Handicap International is reiterating its serious concerns about the lack of resources available to adequately support these refugees. Handicap International calls on international funding bodies and the United Nations to provide the appropriate resources and coordination to meet both current and future needs.
"Imagine what this influx of a population, with all its needs, represents," says Thierry-Mehdi Benlahsen, Handicap International's Regional Emergency Response Coordinator. “Hospitals are at breaking point, there is a serious lack of accommodation, and the quite exceptional solidarity shown by the inhabitants of the host countries may well reach its limits if the international community does not provide an appropriate response to the situation.”
“In the best case scenario, the funding made available by the international community will cover the needs identified four months ago," says Benlahsen. "In the meantime, the situation has deteriorated and the NGOs do not have the resources they need to cope."
Worldwide, at the beginning of 2012, 15 million people had been forced to leave their home countries in the wake of a natural disaster or conflict. In recent statements, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that this figure could reach a record high due to the crisis in Syria.
Handicap International has been working with Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon since the summer of 2012 and inside Syria itself since the beginning of 2013. The organization provides rehabilitation care to people with injuries and disabilities and raises awareness about the risks of unexploded ordnance.
“Every day our staff bears witness to the incredible suffering of displaced Syrians, many of whom have devastating injuries and post-traumatic stress,” says Elizabeth MacNairn, executive director of Handicap International’s US office. “We’re calling on the international community to commit the necessary resources to care for these extremely vulnerable people and to work to end the conflict in Syria once and for all.”
About Handicap International
Co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 30 years. Working alongside persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our actions and testimony focus on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since 1982, Handicap International has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects and to increase the impact of the organization's principles and actions. Handicap International is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and winner of the 2011 Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Handicap International takes action and campaigns in places where “standing tall” is no easy task.
Mica Bevington, Director of Marketing and Communications
Handicap International US
+1 (240) 450-3531
Molly Feltner, Marketing and Communications Officer
Handicap International US
+1 (240) 450-3528