Newly arrived Syrian refugees wait to receive aid at the Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, Jan. 25. The United Nations urged neighboring countries to keep open their borders to civilians fleeing the intensif ying conflict in Syria. More than 30,000 refugees have arrived at the Zaatri camp this year, including 6,400 in the last two days. CNS photo/Muhammad Hamed, Reuters

Church, governmental groups seek more funds as Syrians flood Jordan 

By  Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service
  • January 30, 2013

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) -- As frightened Syrian refugees flood into Jordan and other nearby countries, U.N. officials at a donor conference in Kuwait appealed to the international community for desperately needed funding for victims of the 22-month crisis.

The U.N. said a December request for $1.5 million to aid displaced Syrians received less than 3 percent in pledges, hardly enough to handle the spiraling numbers. In Kuwait, media reported, the agency received about $1 million in pledges.

Caritas, the Catholic Church's humanitarian agency, is aiding about one-quarter of the Syrians seeking shelter in Jordan, said Omar Abawi of the group's emergency response unit.

Each day in the last week of January, 3,000 Syrian refugees flooded into Jordan -- about 5 times above the previous average of 700 per day. Jordan hosts some 320,000 displaced Syrians, almost half of the 700,000 housed in the region. About 2.5 million Syrians are displaced within their own country.

While the U.N. and a Jordanian aid organization are responsible for about 83,000 refugees in Jordan's sole Zaatari refugee camp, Caritas and others assist the larger bulk found in communities along the border and farther afield.

Caritas has distributed food coupons, medical aid and heaters during this abnormally cold winter, which has included rain, snow and temperatures below freezing.

"Although we've nearly reached our own appeal for $1.7 million, we expect the numbers will need to be revised again, because Syrian refugee numbers could top 500,000 here even before April," Abawi said.

Besides supplying practical items, Caritas is working with refugees on peace-building and social integration efforts in preparation for future reconciliation among Syria's diverse ethnic and religious communities split apart by the civil war.

In Zaatari camp, recent arrivals stood along a metal fence to register. One 70-year-old man, whose eyes were red from crying, would identify himself only by his nickname, Abu Mohamed, for fear of reprisals against family members still in Syria.

"I came with 24 members of my family after my son was shot by government snipers" as he stopped to buy bread on the way home from work.

"Nobody helped to bring him to a hospital, and he bled to death," Abu Mohamed said, as tears streamed down his face.
Ra'ed Bahou of The Catholic Near East Welfare Association said aid agencies and Jordanian officials "are doing our best, but it's not enough."

He said CNEWA also was helping 2,000 Iraqis who once lived in Syria and have been displaced for a second time to Jordan by providing food coupons, hygiene supplies and heaters. It also pays for education in the kingdom's Catholic schools.

"It's impossible to cope with 3,000-4,000 Syrians arriving a day, and we don't know what future donations will be available to Jordan," Bahou said.

Addressing the gathering in Kuwait, Jordan's ruler said his kingdom cannot cope with a steep spike in Syrians fleeing intensified fighting.

"We have reached the end of the line. We have exhausted our resources," King Abdullah II told participants from nearly 60 nations, including Russia and Iran, key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

The kingdom's economic council announced Jan. 30 that the cost of hosting Syrian refugees for 18 months ending in November was more than $833 million or about 3 percent of the country's gross domestic product. The figure does not include funds spent on this latest wave of refugees.

Inside dusty Zaatari camp, refugee children run along without socks and sometimes without shoes in the cold. Most Syrians arrive with just the clothes on their backs.

Some who were flooded out of their tents in the fierce winter storm earlier in January are living in the camp's school because alternative housing has not yet been provided.

"My family is sharing a classroom with about two dozen others," said a 35-year-old businessman named Abu Mohamed from Damascus. "Only desks are partitioning the families from each other. This is no way to live," he said, the frustration rising in his voice.

"There are no heaters and we have no idea when we can receive either a tent or a trailer to live in," he said, expressing fear for more heavy rain predicted.

As a result of the new appeal, the U.S. has pledged an additional $155 million in humanitarian assistance for Syrian refugees the region, while Britain has promised nearly $79 million in new support. Gulf Arab countries have also put forward $900 million.

The International Rescue Committee says donor countries must immediately address funding gaps in key areas, including assistance for "urban refugee" populations and the communities hosting them; targeted services for vulnerable women and girls, including survivors of sexual violence; and psychosocial and education support for displaced children.

Most refugees say that they just want the nightmare to end and to return home.

 

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