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Gael Garcia Bernal on the need for peace in Syria

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Gael Garcia Bernal visits an extended Syrian family who have received cash and hygiene vouchers from Oxfam. The family of 15 people are living in a four-room apartment. Photo: Salah Malkawi/Oxfam
Gael Garcia Bernal visits an extended Syrian family who have received cash and hygiene vouchers from Oxfam. The family of 15 people is living in a four-room apartment. Photo: Salah Malkawi/Oxfam

On the outskirts of Amman in Jordan sits a farm dotted with tents that serve as home to more than 100 Syrian families. Part of an exodus that now numbers nearly two million people, they have fled the brutal fighting that has dragged on for more than two years in Syria, leaving 100,000 dead.

Earlier this week, that tent settlement was one of the places Oxfam traveled to with actor Gael Garcia Bernal—star of Babel and The Motorcycle Diaries—to help bring attention to the conditions many refugees face as they struggle to find shelter, food, and work. Their needs have put a great strain on neighboring countries.

While many westerners have probably heard of Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp—now the second largest in the world with 120,000 people—what they may not know is how few refugees are actually living in organized camps. The vast majority of those in exile—about 1.4 million people—are crowding with their extended families  into a handful of rooms, moving into dank basements and abandoned commercial properties, or pitching tents wherever they can. And often, they are paying steep rents for the privilege of having found some security.

In Lebanon, Syrian refugees are now scattered across at least 1,200 locations, making it difficult for them to learn about—and receive—support from aid organizations like Oxfam. Jordan is hosting about half a million Syrians, some of them in makeshift tent settlements like the one Bernal visited.

“They are struggling to live with dignity using the few resources available to them,” he said. “Aid is essential for these people. There is not enough coming despite the promises from the international community.”

Photo: Sarah Malkawi/Oxfam
Photo: Sarah Malkawi/Oxfam

In the photo above, Bernal helped Oxfam’s partner, ICCS, distribute vouchers that allow families to purchase hygiene items, like soap and shampoo, in selected stores in the area. Cash and hygiene vouchers are a key part of Oxfam’s emergency response for families who are hard-pressed to meet their basic needs. Oxfam plans to continue with the distribution of the hygiene vouchers in Safout until October—and longer if it can raise the funds to continue. An appeal launched earlier this year that would allow Oxfam to help 650,000 people in the next 12 months is far short of its goal.

But what Syrians say they want more than anything is peace.

“They want to return to their home country to rebuild their future,” said Bernal.

Want to join the effort? Here are four ways you can help children and families displaced by the fighting in Syria.

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