As winter looms, Syrian refugees now fear 'dire' shortfalls in aid

As winter looms, Syrian refugees now fear 'dire' shortfalls in aid

A young Syrian refugee at school in Ramtha, Jordan. Credit: Kevin Jones/CNA.
A young Syrian refugee at school in Ramtha, Jordan. Credit: Kevin Jones/CNA.

.- Refugees who have fled violence in Syria and Iraq may face further significant problems in meeting their basic needs if funding shortfalls for U.N. food and refugee assistance are not met.

“If the U.N. cuts assistance we are going to be in a very, very difficult situation. We are frightened. We are barely managing,” Amer Fahd Al Naser, a 38-year-old refugee from Homs, told reporters through a translator Oct. 27.

Al Naser, who volunteers with the Catholic relief agency Caritas Jordan, has been in Jordan since September 2012, when his home district came under heavy attack from government forces. He now lives with his wife, two sons, sister, and mother in an Amman apartment.

He said the situation of Syrian refugees in Jordan is “bad, going towards worse.”

Latifah, a married mother of four from Daraa, a city due south of Damascus and only five miles from the Jordanian border, was also worried.

“We live off coupons we get from the U.N.,” she told reporters at a Jordanian school. “We are frightened because we heard that some coupons were canceled, and we don’t know why.”

Issam Derwish, a 33-year-old Syrian refugee who sells coffee in the streets of Amman for $0.36 a cup, said the U.N. subsidies are not enough.

He is trying to support his wife and three children in a country that hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees, yet bars most from regular work so that they do not depress wages.

An estimated 13.6 million people have been displaced in both conflicts, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates, while some humanitarian agencies put the numbers even higher.

Ariane Rummery, a UNHCR spokesperson, said that the UNHCR and its more than 60 partner agencies had appealed for $3.74 billion in June 2014 to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis for the remainder of 2014. Only about half that money, $1.9 billion, has been funded.

The UNHCR itself received only $728 million of its $1.26 billion appeal for Syrian refugees.

“Funding shortfalls entail having to further narrow the group of refugees targeted with assistance from food, to hygiene / baby kits, to healthcare, shelter support, education, and other services,” she said. “It means having to make painful choices and prioritizing between equally compelling programs.”

Rummery said the humanitarian response targets those “most in need”: single mothers with large households, unaccompanied children, people with special needs or health problems and families with no ability to generate an income.

She said the agency is “deeply worried” that 1 million displaced people in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere will not get help due to a projected $58 million shortfall for winter programs.  

Omar Abawi, head program manager for Caritas Jordan, said the relief effort funding cuts have created a “huge gap” in support for refugees.

Abawi said that about 40 percent of Jordan’s 10 million residents are refugees or immigrants.

These include 2.4 million registered Palestinians, 1.4 million Syrians, and 220,000 Iraqis living as permanent residents.

The Syrian refugee crisis follows the 2011 outbreak of armed conflict between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebel groups which resulted from a government crackdown on protests. The crisis further burdens efforts to help Iraqi refugees, many of whom had fled to Syria due to violence and a lack of security following the 2003 U.S.-led military invasion.

Steve Taravella, a spokesperson for the U.N. World Food Program in Washington, said the program is feeding about 6 million people within Syria and about 3 million refugees who have left the country for Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq.

“The operations are stretched, both financially and capacity-wise, in terms of our capacity to meet the need, because there is no end to this conflict. It is a profoundly expensive operation for us; we’re spending about $35 million per week feeding hungry people in these countries,” Taravella told CNA.

He said the food program was able to avoid ration cuts in Jordan and Lebanon in October. No cuts are expected in November due to the agency taking out “internal loans,” money transfers funded through expected contributions.

“But December looks dire, so we might have to impose ration cuts next month. We need more than $300 million to continue the refugee operation until year's end.”

“That’s an enormous sum of money by any measure,” he acknowledged. “But the need is enormous.”

The food program did cut supplies to those in need within Syria by 40 percent in October and 20 percent in November. It will be able to restore 100 percent of its contributions in December.

The food program also cuts refugees from their distribution list if they no longer meet needs criteria, adding that some observers might wrongly attribute these cuts to budget problems.

Taravella noted that the refugee relief for the Syria and Iraq crises coincide with three other “Level Three” emergencies, the program’s designation for emergencies that require the greatest response. Other emergencies include South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Ebola-affected regions of west Africa.

“We’re operating by pulling out all the stops. Our resources are just stretched thin,” he said. “The entire system is stretched to capacity.”

Never before have there been five “Level Three” emergencies, he said.

The food program receives no payments and is voluntarily funded primarily by member states of the United Nations. The largest donor countries for the Syria operation include the U.S, the U.K., Canada, Kuwait, and Germany.

“They are responding generously, as are many other countries, but the need is so great, and the projections are so high. We don’t see an end to this right now,” Taravella said.

Tags: Syrian Civil War, Jordan