AS SYRIAN refugees fall ever deeper into poverty and donations dry up, World Vision is issuing an urgent appeal for funds to save lives this winter.
Mirzda Abele, a project manager for World Vision Lebanon in Bekaa Valley, where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees live in informal settlements, said this week that several children had frozen to death last year.
“You know that the difference was the matter of a blanket or a refill for fuel,” she said. “Any contribution is so vital; it would help us a lot and save lives.”
Lebanon is home to one million of the 5.2 million Syrian refugees living in the region. The UN inter-agency appeal for the country is just 30 per cent funded, one third less than last year. More than 70 per cent of Syrian families live below the poverty line, and a recent UN report concluded that the current level of humanitarian assistance was “barely enough to keep people afloat”.
“The situation keeps getting worse and worse every year,” Ms Abele, who is anticipating particularly harsh weather conditions this year, said. “We have the same people still living in informal settlements, and Syrian refugees are getting poorer and poorer over time. . . What we are anticipating this year is more people who cannot afford to properly heat their tents.” The aim was to provide refugees with cash assistance, she said, which gave people “authority over their own lives”, enabling them to fund things including rent and medical care.
Fund-raising was becoming “a lot more difficult, as people keep giving and giving, every year and we don’t really have a solution to the crisis”, she said.
World Vision is focusing increasingly on development programmes, working with the government at national and local level on projects including support for small and medium-sized businesses to enable them to employ more people, and on expanding vocational training schools. There was a “huge” youth population in the country who were “struggling a lot to penetrate the market”, she said. Last year, the Lebanese government lifted a prohibition on work for refugees, and there has been a three-fold increase this year in vulnerable Lebanese and Syrians engaging in skills training.
In August, the UN reported that 600,000 displaced Syrians had returned home, of whom 93 per cent had been displaced within Syria, not neighbouring countries.
“People are pretty scared to go back,” Ms Abele said. “It is uncertain what is behind the border and whether they can come back across if they need to. We are seeing some critical levels of poverty and people would not put resources into travelling unless they absolutely to had to.”
Last week, a report produced by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and United Nations’ Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) said that the Syrian government was to blame for a sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun, in April (News, 13 April). The Syrian government has denied responsibility. The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, condemned an “appalling breach of the rules of war”.