Syria: local networks of solidarity and JRS helping displaced families
20 July 2012

JRS volunteers unloading emergency materials to be distributed to displaced Syrians, Damascus, Syria
An estimated 140,000 Syrians have crossed into Jordan since March 2011.
Amman, 20 July 2012 – Whilst other humanitarian agencies attempt to gain access to areas in Syria where emergency aid is most needed, the Jesuit Refugee Service is reaching out to thousands of internally displaced Syrians.

By working in cooperation with local solidarity networks, well-developed Jesuit networks, and existing JRS Syria projects, JRS has managed to expand its services to some of the most vulnerable displaced Syrians in the country.

The local networks of volunteers comprise Syrians from all walks of society and from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. These individuals volunteer their time and energy, working together to assist those in desperate need.

Logistically, JRS is well placed in urban centres in Syria to help coordinate these activities. Through the joint efforts of only a dozen JRS staff and several dozen volunteers, a wider range of displaced families who have migrated to urban areas can be assisted.

Homs. Despite the destruction of certain neighbourhoods in Homs, there are still inhabitable areas of the city and people valiantly get on with their daily lives. The greatest need in Homs is for basic commodities, which people can no longer afford due to chronic shortages and a drastic increase in the cost of living.

Inevitably, many people are deeply traumatised and are in need of psychosocial support. At centres in Homs, JRS organises activities for children, which are designed to help cope with trauma and loss, together with educational support and recreational activities. Some of the children have not been able to attend school for more than one year.

Aleppo. Further north, in Aleppo, the JRS Deir Vartan Centre has evolved to become a place where displaced families from Homs, Idlib and areas surrounding Aleppo are welcomed. At Deir Vartan, families are registered to receive family visits and in-kind support.

Kemal, one of the volunteers in Aleppo, explains how the volunteers operate.

"A group of volunteers visits each household and, depending on needs, provide for everything from rent – in essential cases – to outfitting kitchens, a comprehensive food package, hygiene products and basic medical care".

Where possible, employment is sourced, but current rates of unemployment are high, with few opportunities available.

Family visits are at the heart of JRS services. Through family visits the principle of accompaniment is put into practice; people are able to share their stories and their grief in a safe place, and become more resilient with moral support. 

This combination of personal contact and material support forms the basis of the JRS response. During family visits, JRS is able to evaluate what needs and services each family may require. To date, in Aleppo, up to 6,000 people have received assistance.

In Damascus, a similar network of volunteers is helping JRS to distribute in-kind and material support to displaced families from all around the country.

While this cooperative style of work and emergency assistance is effective, it is not sufficiently meeting the needs of the estimated one million internally displaced Syrians. 

Syrians in Jordan. Despite reports that Syrians are prevented from leaving the country through the regular border crossing, every day nearly 1,000 Syrians continue to arrive in Jordan. They are picked up by the Jordanian military, and safely escorted to reception facilities where they are welcomed and have access to basic services.

JRS visited more than 200 Syrian families in Amman and emergency distribution of food baskets and non-food items has been given to 120 of these families. More than 100 Syrian children enrolled in the JRS informal education project for the summer, many of whom have been out of school for one year. 

"Our lives are better in Amman than they were in Homs because there's less violence and our psychological well-being has improved", said a Syrian woman from Homs who has been in Jordan since December 2011. "But I miss home and I want to return as soon as possible."

In the north of Jordan, JRS has initiated home visits in Irbid, Ramtha, and the surrounding areas. The family visits programme provides supports families with rent assistance and food baskets.

An estimated 140,000 Syrians have crossed into Jordan since March 2011. As the numbers increase daily, contingency plans are being prepared by the Jordanian government and the UNCHR. Recently, the government approved the construction of refugee camps in the north of Jordan to hold 130,000 refugees, in addition to the existing reception facilities.

JRS plans to continue offering home visits and informal education for Syrians in Jordan.

Iraqis in Syria. As for the Iraqis who sought refuge in Syria after sectarian violence broke out in their home country in 2006, life is uncertain again. JRS continues to provide psychosocial support and informal education to Iraqi refugees who remain in Syria.

Although the Iraqi government has called for Iraqis to leave Syria, many feel they are unable to return home. Furthermore, with a large majority of embassies closed in Syria, their prospects of resettlement in industrialised more developed nations are indefinitely postponed.

For some, they have chosen to remain because they have rebuilt their lives in Syria and have no wish to uproot and flee violence once again, for others; they stay in Syria simply because there is nowhere else for them to go.

Zerene Haddad, Communications Officer, JRS Middle East and North Africa

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Oliver White
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