The war in Syria enters its seventh year. The number of Syrians who have fled their homes is greater than the entire population of the Czech RepublicPublished: Mar 15, 2017 Reading time: 8 minutes
Aleppo, Idlib (9 March 2017) – After six years of conflict, the people of Syria can see neither peace nor a long-lasting ceasefire on the horizon. On Wednesday March 15, one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes of our time will enter its seventh year. According to the UN, since 2011 the conflict has forced one in two Syrian’s from their homes. Since the start of the conflict five million people have left Syria seeking refuge elsewhere, whilst another 6.3 million have been displaced within the country. Together, these numbers total more the entire population of the Czech Republic. More than half of the refugees are children, many of whom have never experienced life with peace. The dire security situation across the country has also affected many humanitarian organizations; even schools supported by People in Need (PIN) have been bombed. Nevertheless, despite all the challenges, PIN assists approximately 700,000 vulnerable people a year and has supported more than 2 million Syrians since 2012.
In many ways Aleppo, one of the hardest hit cities in Syria, symbolizes the horror of the war for the Syrian people. Prior to December 2016, when the city was taken back by pro-Government forces, this strategic city had been divided between Government and opposition forces since the summer of 2012; with the Government controlling the western half and opposition groups holding the east. In April 2016, pro-Government forces placed the eastern part of the city under siege, isolating the residents for several months without access to humanitarian aid. “From July to December, with the exception of about two weeks in August, the residents of east Aleppo were completely cut off from supplies of goods and humanitarian aid. These people were under constant attack and were running out of food and drinking water, there was no electricity, schools and most medical facilities were shut,” describes Tomáš Kocian, PIN‘s Humanitarian Aid Coordinator. “Before the siege we were able to deliver about 20 trucks with food aid per month into Aleppo, thanks to the professional work of our logistics and field team. After the last access road, Castello Road, was cut off, no humanitarian organizations including PIN were able to enter the eastern part of the city. Despite having information from local people about how desperately they needed our help, we couldn't deliver it,” he says, adding that he was grateful PIN were able to post weekly updates about the humanitarian situation in the besieged city, at the very least.
Distribution of food vouchers:
Today, PIN continues to assist hundreds of thousands of people across Aleppo and Idlib governorates. In addition to distributing food, vouchers and financial assistance, PIN also supports schools through education programing; access to clean water through WASH programing; and the provision of such essential services in the community through capacity building projects. As part of PIN’s education program in Syria, PIN support 398 teachers and 8,408 students in community-led schools by providing: staff incentives; school rehabilitation and furniture; school operational costs; teacher training; teaching and learning materials; first aid training and kits; and access to psychosocial support activities.
PIN’s Cash-for-Work programme also supports and facilitates food security in vulnerable households. Programme participants engage in various types of community-supporting work, such as removing waste from the streets or supervising kindergartens and earn enough money to cover their basic living needs and provide food for their families. In 2016, 8,930 Syrian men and women participated in this programme.
PIN has been active in agricultural projects in Syria since late 2014. By training lead farmers and providing farmers with agro-input vouchers that allow them to purchase seeds and tools specific to their needs, PIN aims to increase households’ access to nutrient-dense foods; and contribute to the stimulation of the local economy. To date, PIN has supported 3,000 farmers in northern Syria in this way. Lead farmers then pass on the learning to their wider communities via the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach. PIN further scaled up these activities in 2016 and began supporting 2 Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) centres through rehabilitation; provision of incentives, kits and training for teachers; and provision of food, kits and transport assistance for students. 109,650 households received food aid.
War, a live broadcast
During the siege of eastern Aleppo, international humanitarian organizations were calling for an end to the bombing and for resumed access of humanitarian aid into the city. Despite repeated calls, and attempts to establish a ceasefire agreement, negotiations continued to fail and residents continued to suffer. All the while the entire world watched helplessly as the humanitarian crisis worsened. When pro-Government forces gained control of the opposition territory, the people of east Aleppo did not know what lay ahead of them. They bid their goodbyes to family and friends, while making their public goodbyes to the world through social media. “If anything happens to us, do not forget about my wife and children,” one man wrote. “We have nowhere to go. Each minute feels like death. Pray for us...” wrote a young girl. As the rest of the city was retaken by pro-Government forces, more than 80,000 people were displaced from eastern Aleppo into Government-held areas and over 36,000 people were evacuated to areas controlled by the opposition in the countrysides of Aleppo and Idlib governorates. Overnight people lost virtually everything they had left and the majority did not know where and how they would continue to survive. PIN and other humanitarian organizations prepared to assist the evacuated families.
Food, blankets and money for evacuated families
For the ‘fortunate‘ ones evacuated from east Aleppo, friends and families were able to host them in their new communities but for the rest their only option was to start life over again from scratch. “We were forced to leave Aleppo last December. It was very difficult to leave my home town where I spent all my life. At the time I also had an injured neck, so the start of my journey, before I managed to get some medical help, was very hard”, says Abdul Kader, who now lives in a village in Idlib with his family. “I tried to find new accommodation. Everywhere is so expensive and prices are still rising so we can't afford it anywhere. Besides that I can't find any work. Currently we live in my brother's house, he left for Turkey some years ago and we are managing to survive thanks to financial aid from People in Need, it helps to cover the basic costs for everyday life”, adds Abdul Kader. “We hope that the situation improves soon even though it only seems to be getting worse”, he concludes.
After the evacuation of east Aleppo, PIN and other NGOs mobilized and began to provide the evacuees with food, warm blankets, sleeping mats, canisters for water and financial grants. In the weeks after the evacuation PIN helped 4,097 families, approximately 20,485 people, across 41 villages. “Since mid December our colleagues on site have distributed over 3,700 food packages with high energy items to be consumed immediately, also over 3,100 food vouchers and material assistance. Besides that, we have also provided almost 2,900 financial grants in cash so that people can secure some housing and other essential items,” says Naďa Aliová, PIN Aid Coordinator in Syria. “Besides helping the evacuees in Aleppo and Idlib it is important to also support people in the villages where the refugees have arrived. We try to alleviate the suffering of the evacuees as well as the local populations”, she adds.
East Aleppo was just one of the besieged areas in Syria cut off from humanitarian aid for many months. According to the UN, 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian aid and of these, 4.6 million are trapped in inaccessible locations where help cannot reach them. “The situation in Syria continues to be critical. More and more often, the targets of attacks are civilians and humanitarian organizations. The fall of Aleppo does not mean the end of war in Syria. The war is continuing, as is the suffering of the people there,” says Tomáš Kocian.
Syria – what is left
In an effort to bring the Syrian story to the Czech Republic, PIN has prepared a themed debate for March 14 as part of the One World program - a human rights documentary film festival. At 7pm the audience will watch Lost in Lebanon, which deals with the influx of Syrian refugees into neighbouring country, Lebanon. Following the screening, there will be a panel debate titled Syria – What is Left? with journalist Marketa Kutilova; Samira Sibai, a Syrian doctor living in the Czech Republic; and Tomáš Kocian, PIN Humanitarian Aid Coordinator. On March 15, following the screening at Kino Atlas, there will be a discussion with film director, Georgia Scott, who together with her sister strives to inform people of the importance in providing young refugees with access to education, and emphasize how important it is for them to be able to legally live and work in countries other than those they were born in.
PIN and its partners on the ground have been directly involved in the provision of relief aid in northern Syria since 2012. In early 2012, PIN began supporting an informal network of Syrian doctors; equipping the professionals with the materials necessary to more effectively treat the injured and carry out life-saving operations. Over the last five years, PIN has grown to become a key provider of humanitarian aid in northern Syria, and currently supports over 700,000 people per year. PIN’s activities in Syria have been generously supported by donations from the Czech people to the SOS Syria and Iraq campaigns, or through Real Gift and PINs Cluf of Friends as well as the generous funding and support received from European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), European Union Development Aid (Europeaid), the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the German government through Welthungerhilfe – PIN Alliance2015 partner, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic.
For more information get in touch with:
Naďa Aliová, PIN Syria Desk Officer , M: +420 778 486 244, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tomáš Kocian, PIN Regional Director for Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Ukraine,+420 777 787 970, email@example.com