Syrian refugee crisis hit by acute funding cuts

10 July 2015

stella chetham/tearfund

In exile: a boy looks out of a tent in an informal camp in northern Iraq. Several Yazidi families, some of whom have received grants from Tearfund, have been at the camp since last year

In exile: a boy looks out of a tent in an informal camp in northern Iraq. Several Yazidi families, some of whom have received grants from Tearfund, ha...

MORE Syrian refugees will be forced to beg on the streets and take food from bins, if rich countries fail to donate to the World Food Programme (WFP), aid agencies have warned.

The WFP said last week that it is on the brink of cutting all assistance to the 440,000 Syrian refugees living outside camps in Jordan (News, 30 January).

In the fifth year of the Syrian crisis and with no end in sight, the WFP’s regional refugee operation is 81 per cent underfunded. It urgently requires $520 million to provide food for the millions who have fled or been displaced.

This month, it will halve the value of food vouchers, or “e-cards”, in Lebanon, providing only $13.50 per person per month. In Jordan, it has warned that, if it does not receive immediate funding by August, it will have to suspend all assistance to Syrian refugees living outside camps

Wynn Flaten, World Vision’s Syria crisis response director, reported on Tuesday that around two-thirds of Syrian refugee households in Jordan were entirely dependent on food vouchers. He warned of an increase in debt, and in overcrowding, as families unable to pay the rent moved in together.

“The negative impact on children will be significant, with families more likely to send their children to work or into early marriage,” he said. “We are also seeing a disturbing trend of families returning to Syria just to survive.”

There are now more people returning to Syria than arriving in Jordan.

UN data suggests that 86 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan are living below the poverty line. An assessment published in June stated that “refugees have exhausted their savings and they are depleting their food intake, sending family members, including children, out to beg or resorting to high risk, illegal or socially degrading jobs”.

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Joel Hafvenstein, who oversees Tearfund’s work in the Middle East, said on Tuesday that local partners had reported that refugees were “panicking, and afraid that help will soon be withdrawn altogether.

“The aid was barely covering their needs even before this. Many families eat only one meal a day. They give the best food to the children, and the parents eat dry bread and tea. They are doing their best, but they don’t know what to do any more. People are taking food from bins, and there’s been a big increase in begging.”

Greg Barrow, head of WFP’s office in London, said on Tuesday that “we have probably reached that point where donor governments are finding it difficult to justify long term levels of emergency humanitarian funding.” A process of “recalibrating” the response was under way, but he emphasised that “we can’t afford to have a situation where we are unable to provide them with reasonable levels of food assistance.”

Many governments had shown “huge generosity”, but last week’s warning was a message that this must continue. It was a call, too, to those governments that had not stepped up, “that now is really the time”.

In June, the WFP welcomed a donation of $45 million from Kuwait, the second largest donor in the crisis. The UK is the second largest donor to the WFP overall. But agencies have consistenly warned that pledges of donations must be realised, in order for work in the region to continue.

"Millions of Syrians have left their country to flee war, death and destruction," said Andy Baker, who heads Oxfam's response for the Syria crisis. "It is unthinkable to leave them hungry. The international community can't sit and watch this happen. Rich countries must step up and support the World Food Programme and other humanitarian organisations in order to avoid unnecessary suffering and potential loss of life."

“The best case scenario would be that they these people can return to Syria and live in peace,” said Mr Flaten. “Ultimately, international communities and parties to the conflict need to work together to find a political solution.

"Until that point in time, the international community really needs to step up with the host governments to enable the Syrians and millions who are scattered around to have at least a semblance of a life until they are able to get back on their feet.”

On Thursday, the WFP announced that it had reached the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, in northern Ar-Raqqa governorate, for the first time in eight months, delivering desperately needed food assistance to 10,000 people. 

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