The huge Za’atari refugee camp on Jordan’s side of the Syrian-Jordanian border.
Photo courtesy of UNHCR
June 25, 2013—“Each time you blink another person is forced to flee," said the UN’s top representative responsible for refugees, Antonio Guterres, as he announced rocketing new figures for displaced people around the world.
There are now more families living in forced exile from their homes than at any time since 1994, when the Balkan wars and the Rwanda massacres were making millions flee. The total is calculated to stand at over 45 million individuals worldwide.
The upward spike in today’s numbers in large part has been driven by the Syrian crisis, now more than two years old. Approximately 1.6 million people have been displaced outside the border of Syria since the fighting began, with an additional 4.25 million displaced internally.
On June 7, the United Nations launched an appeal to raise an additional $1 billion to assist affected communities within Syria through the end of 2013. More funds will be required to support those that have been displaced to neighboring countries.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is providing assistance, especially material aid, to communities affected by the Syrian conflict, in cooperation with partners on the ground.
UMCOR’s relief-supply network, including UMCOR Sager Brown in Louisiana and UMCOR West Office and Depot in Utah, is once again being called upon to provide vital relief supplies—especially health kits, school kits, layette kits, and birthing kits—to assist uprooted families.
A container full of such items is expected to arrive by late June to Amman, Jordan, to assist refugees gathered at Jordan’s border with Syria.
UMCOR partner, International Relief and Development (IRD), will distribute the kits to, among other locations, Za’atari refugee camp. Za’atari is an enormous camp managed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Government of Jordan. It opened on the Jordan side of the border in 2012.
Although the camp has come to embrace Iraqi refugees, too, it is the flow of Syrian families that now looks endless there. Just last May, the camp’s population of already more than 110,000 residents swelled with the influx of another 50,000 new Syrian refugees.
An expected 10,000 camp residents will benefit from the UMCOR kits, and IRD will concentrate the distribution first among new arrivals. The camp’s own Community Action Committees will play a vital role in identifying the most vulnerable families.
UMCOR supplies also are being sent to meet needs within Syria itself, in the thick of the raging conflict. Populations requiring assistance there include Iraqis who had already been made homeless by war in their own country and fled to Syria in hope of safety.
UMCOR’s relief partner in this case is International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), which has been providing humanitarian assistance in Syria for more than a decade. IOCC works in cooperation with its church partner, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East (GOPA). At the request of IOCC/GOPA, health kits and school kits are going to a total of more than 26,000 vulnerable Syrians and Iraqis in Syria.
Altogether, UMCOR aid is now going to people whose lives have been badly affected by the Syrian upheaval across a broad swath of the Middle East.
In addition to our assistance in Syria and Jordan, UMCOR also is working with our implementing partner, American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA) to support Palestinian refugees who are fleeing Syria and settling in Lebanon.
Last fall, UMCOR helped ANERA send two containers of relief supplies—UMCOR kits as well as quilts leveraged from Lutheran World Relief—to Beirut to support Palestinian refugees and host communities. This shipment was followed by another container of UMCOR kits in May to support the ever-growing population of Palestinian refugees entering Lebanon from Syria, a community that is particularly at risk.
In her June 7 remarks, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, stated, “Palestinian refugees are among the worst affected. According to the UN Relief and Works Agency, all their camps have been engulfed in the conflict and the entire community of 530,000 is in acute crisis. More than half the Palestinian refugees in Syria have been displaced and 60,000 have fled to neighboring countries.”
UMCOR remains committed to assisting these vulnerable populations working through partners like ANERA and others. UMCOR Program Manager Nicholas Jaeger remarked, “The number of refugees and internally displaced persons from the Syria crisis continues to grow, as do the needs of those displaced. UMCOR will continue to explore ways to meet their needs.”
He underscored, “As long as needs continue to exist, UMCOR will consider opportunities to respond to the crisis in partnership with organizations on the ground.”
Your gift to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance # 982450, will help families fleeing the violence in Syria—those inside the country and those taking refuge in neighboring states. To support kit shipments directly, please give to Contain Your Joy, UMCOR Advance #982730.
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to UMCOR.org