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This month marks 11 years since the start of the war in Syria, which, despite its disappearance from the news agenda, is still very much active.
Over those 11 years/132 months/572 weeks, more than 6.6 million people have left Syria and are considered refugees, while a further 6.9 million people are internally displaced – not living in their homes – within Syria itself.
Inside Syria, 14.6 million people, who largely lived typically middle-class lives before the war, now depend on humanitarian assistance.
Conflict’s reach goes far beyond the scope of physical violence alone, transforming (and often destroying) economies, social networks and household support systems far from the frontlines.
In Syria, there has been significant economic decline, poor opportunities for employment, and fragile health systems. This has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and drought-like conditions over the last couple of years.
Concern works in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria; all countries we didn’t have a presence in prior to 2013. Our work targets Syrian refugees and host populations. In 2021, we reached over 2.4 million people in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon.
Funding for humanitarian assistance in Syria and the Middle East is increasingly stretched, making life even harder for people who have few other options as they hope year after year that the end of the war and its consequences might be in sight.
We’ve supported Syrian people in a number of different ways over the last 11 years, and envision that without a political solution to the conflict, humanitarian aid will continue to be depended on in the future as the people of Syria remain unable to move on with their lives in a sustainable way.
Our response has been wide and varied, as you can read below.
As the war continues, people are still leaving their homes or places they have temporarily settled in, to flee violence and seek better opportunities.
We provide emergency assistance to the most vulnerable internally displaced people and host community households in conflict areas of Syria. This mainly includes regular provision of food vouchers, where access to shops is possible, so that displaced people can purchase food in local markets. This enables people to meet their minimal basic survival requirements while exercising choice on what to purchase.
Through our work in internally displaced people camps, we have installed emergency toilets, provided chlorinated water supply and conduct water quality monitoring. We also distribute hygiene kits and information to promote improved hygiene practices. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic we have worked to raise awareness on how best to stop the spread of the virus and have adapted standard hygiene kits into Covid-19 response kits.
For people newly displaced and not living in a camp, Concern assists with shelter kits, water tanks and non-food item kits that include such things as mattresses, blankets, plastic sheets and floor mats. The weather can be very cold in winter months; we provide heaters, cash for fuel, fire extinguishers and jerry cans to help people cope with the freezing temperatures.
Shelter and Water, Sanitation, Hygiene (WASH)
Shelter is the most basic of human rights. Concern has supported weatherproofing of shelters for families living in informal tented settlements through the distribution of shelter materials such as tarpaulins.
In northern Syria, we support internally displaced people in urban areas where the extent of buildings damaged by the war remains enormous. This has resulted in an acute shortage of affordable, safe housing which has led to high rental prices, forcing many people to take up residence in partially damaged or unfinished buildings which pose serious health and safety risks. We are assisting with the rehabilitation of buildings to make them safe for living in.
Over half of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in residential buildings that are overcrowded and in poor condition. Concern has renovated substandard properties in return for rent-free, rent freezes, and rent reduction agreements for Syrian refugees.
In Turkey, Concern supports Syrian refugees who are facing difficulties in accessing services, including shelter services, due to issues such as language barriers and lack of up-to-date information on procedures. Vulnerable households are risk assessed and supported through referral to relevant service providers, along with transportation and accompaniment to appointments as required.
We also respond to new emergencies, including fires and flooding.
Access to clean water and good sanitation is essential to reducing the risk of waterborne diseases like typhoid, cholera and dysentery. Many of the facilities that provide clean water have been destroyed in the conflict. Our water, sanitation and hygiene programmes have involved repairing water and sanitation infrastructure, enabling thousands of people to have access to clean water.
Concern’s programmes encourage the adoption of good practices in terms of hygiene and solid waste disposal through hygiene promotion, cleaning campaigns, distribution of soaps, and reusable menstrual pads.
With the devaluation of the Syrian pound over the last year or so, many Syrians have struggled to afford basic food items. Concern has responded by increasing the value of food vouchers distributed to vulnerable households, as well as the number of households receiving the vouchers.
In areas where there is a degree of stability, we are supporting communities through agriculture assistance with seeds, tools and training, as well as vocational and technical training. This helps people to either set up their own business or become employed.
Where it’s not possible for people to generate an income, the most vulnerable and low-income households are supported through our Cash-for-Work activities; they carry out activities that benefit the camp community, whilst receiving payment for their work.
Syrians in neighbouring countries often struggle to find stable employment that allows them to provide for their family. In Turkey, we’ve supported women and men to upskill through vocational training, in areas such as barbering, mechanics and business development training, as well as providing Turkish language lessons. A substantial number of people who took part in the programme are now successfully employed.
In Lebanon, we support vulnerable women in establishing small businesses through providing business training, offering small business grants and supporting them to establish small businesses. We’ve also provided training on Good Agricultural Practices for farmers and agricultural workers across different communities to help them generate a sustainable income.
The scars of war are not just physical and there is an enormous amount of emotional trauma that people who have lived through conflict carry with them.
Psycho-social support aims to improve people’s wellbeing, and build their resilience by working through this trauma.
Concern’s Child Protection programmes centre on this approach, which uses activity-based learning such as drawing, music and sport to help children process their emotions and feelings on what they’ve been through.
Psycho-social support is also offered to caregivers and adults, and deals not just with the trauma of war, but also addresses issues related to early marriage and violence against women and children. We work to assist caregivers with the necessary information, referrals to specialist organisations and direct support for themselves and their children.
Education around gender equality is an important element in reducing sexual and gender-based violence. We provide training for our staff on the key principles of gender equality, prevention of gender-based violence and how to respond to it.
We raise awareness around gender norms and attitude transformation to help teams and beneficiaries to tackle gender inequalities.
In Turkey, we provide refugees with information on their rights and help them access services. Refugees who are at risk of, or are exposed to, violence, exploitation or abuse are referred to the appropriate support services provided by the local government
Many Syrian children have been born since the conflict began, and many families were moved from one place to the other for safety. Therefore hundreds of thousands of children have missed a substantial amount of time in school.
Our programmes have refurbished schools damaged by the conflict, supported both formal and non-formal education services, and focused on reaching and preparing out-of-school children for the transition to formal education, in a safe environment.
We’ve helped Syrian children and their parents/caregivers navigate the education systems in their host countries; collaborating with the Turkish Ministry of National Education to alleviate financial constraints on families and other barriers to education.
This is complemented by social cohesion activities that bring Turkish and Syrian children together and psychosocial support that builds children’s resilience, confidence and sense of self-worth as they enter the Turkish formal education system.
* names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals
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