7 surprising facts about the crisis in Syria
Many news stories about the war in Syria don’t talk about another fast-growing emergency: millions of ordinary people have had to leave their homes.May 29th, 2013 | by Anna Kramer
1. There’s a crisis within a crisis.
Many of the stories we’re hearing about the war in Syria actually overlook a fast-growing emergency: millions of ordinary Syrians have had to leave their homes to escape the fighting. In many cases, families had to leave home with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and now struggle to obtain basics like food, water, shelter, and medical care.
2. More than five million people have had to flee their homes.
Most of these five million displaced families remain in Syria, where nearly a third of the population is in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. However, more than 1.5 million refugees have fled across borders to neighboring countries like Jordan and Lebanon. (To put it in perspective, that’s roughly the same as if every woman, man, and child in the state of New Hampshire had to leave home and take refuge in Massachusetts and Vermont.) The UN predicts that the number of refugees could rise to three million by the end of 2013.
3. At least half of the refugees are kids.
UNICEF estimates that at least 50 percent of the refugees from Syria are children under 18. Many had to drop out of school, like Reema, a bright 12-year-old whose home was destroyed by an air strike. Her family now lives in a small, windowless shelter in Lebanon. “I was at school when it was bombed. Some of the children were killed … We left because we were afraid of the bombings in Syria,” Reema said. (Read some of the poems Reema wrote about her experiences.)
4. Most refugees are not living in camps.
While Jordan’s Zaatari camp is now home to more than 100,000 refugees from Syria, 70 percent of the refugees in Jordan are living in urban communities. In Lebanon, there are no camps in place for refugees, so families are scattered among 1,200 different locations—like the abandoned shopping center near Tripoli, pictured above, where 90 Syrian families have built makeshift homes in bare tiled rooms that used to be stores.
5. Many refugee families have to pay rent.
Most refugees living in urban areas have to pay rent to landlords. Many lack incomes and, as a result, are faced with the choice of homelessness or overwhelming debt.
Mariam, 28, at left above, lives with her husband and children in a rubble-strewn garage under an apartment building near Tripoli, Lebanon. “The owner keeps threatening to evict us because we can’t pay the rent and he wants to rent the rooms to others,” Mariam told Oxfam earlier this month. “My husband is looking for a job. He has been looking for a long time but there are so many refugees in Lebanon he can’t find [one].” Oxfam is helping families like Mariam’s with cash assistance that can be used for rent payments.
6. People living through the crisis are sharing their stories online.
In Jordan, an Oxfam partner organization hired and trained women citizen journalists to collect stories and photos from refugees and share them on a website called the Voice Project, providing a platform for refugees to share their concerns. “I felt that this project gave me back my humanity that I’d lost for a while. It let me scream out loud,” said Hamida, one of the citizen journalists.
7. When it comes to aid, cash is better than goods.
In Jordan and Lebanon, Oxfam and partners are providing refugee families with cash and vouchers to help them meet their most urgent needs, such as food and rent payments. This approach gives families decision-making power and is more flexible than simply handing out goods, as an Oxfam partner in Lebanon explained. “We listened to [refugees] and decided it was better for them to choose what they would like to buy,” said Fadia Dahshe of the local organization Popular Aid for Relief and Development. “It is their right to choose.”