by Margo Berends
Although Aleppo is now under the control of forces supporting the Syrian government and the city has been evacuated, it is but one city and the Syrian crisis is far from over. Millions have been displaced by the violence, either within Syria or across its borders, and the refugee crisis reverberates across the Middle East, Europe and beyond. While there has been much discussion of the refugee crisis, there has been limited coverage in mainstream American media of the needs of refugees and displaced people beyond the basics.
The scale of the crisis is staggering. As of December 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a total of 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees. 2.1 million are registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, and 2.7 million are registered in Turkey. Many more are unregistered. There are an additional 6.5 million internally displaced people within Syria.
The most immediate needs of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons are, indeed, water, food, shelter, hygiene and, where necessary, medical assistance. I work for Global Communities, an NGO responding to these needs by delivering much needed goods and services. But in addition to these life-sustaining necessities, we are working to provide refugees and the displaced with other services to move towards recovery.
Whether in refugee camps or living in cities, dispersed among the native population of their recipient communities, refugees require services that everyone needs, such as trash removal, education, sanitation services and so on. This means that the impact of the refugee crisis goes beyond the refugees themselves into the host communities which receive them. A large influx of refugees, especially in areas that are already relatively poor, strains scarce resources, appears to divert government services away from citizens, and increases competition for employment opportunities. For example, Lebanon hosts an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in a country with an original population of only 4.5 million. That is the equivalent of the entire populations of Canada and the United Kingdom moving into the United States in the space of five years. Jordan faces a similar challenge with an estimated 1.8 million refugees in country. Global Communities is working with USAID in Jordan to help host communities prioritize their needs and improve public services to reduce tensions between refugees and hosts. In Turkey, where we are working with the German Corporation for International Cooperation, Global Communities is providing vocational training to vulnerable Turkish citizens and Syrian refugees, with a particular focus on women and youth.
This is important, as women and youth are particularly at risk in the crisis. Many Syrian children are unaccompanied and separated from their families. They have suffered physical harm from injuries sustained in airstrikes or explosions and some have endured forced child labor or direct participation in the armed conflict. Child marriage, kidnapping, and domestic violence are also pressing issues. A 2013 assessment found that 98% of Syrian sites surveyed reported behavioral changes in children due to psychosocial distress from the conflict and resulting circumstances. Women and girls displaced by the Syrian conflict experience an increased risk of sexual violence and human trafficking. Despite the prevalence of child protection and gender based violence issues among displaced people and refugees, these two areas are receiving limited attention. As of September 2016, only 8% of humanitarian interventions in Syria addressed gender-based violence and only 22% addressed child protection.
To address some of these issues, Global Communities is providing child protection and gender based violence services to internally displaced people inside Syria. Global Communities has established Child Friendly Spaces, a Youth Empowerment Program center, and a Women and Girls Safe Space, all of which conduct outreach activities within displaced persons camps to raise awareness on important issues identified by residents such as unsafe conditions, health problems, and social issues. The Child Friendly Spaces establish safe spaces where young children can engage in recreation, psychosocial, and informal education activities. The program is also providing psychological services to children at five schools. The Youth Empowerment Program center helps teenagers build life skills, self-confidence, and plan for the future. The Women and Girls Safe Space offers recreational activities and vocational training for women. It also provides them with a social space to discuss any issues and refers women to other services as needed. These centers and activities are an example of how we can help address specific psychological, educational, emotional, and protection needs of women and children as a part of a comprehensive humanitarian assistance approach.
These are some of the broader considerations for refugees and displaced persons that are addressed through holistic humanitarian assistance projects that provide services to address life-threatening needs as well as more nuanced psychological and social issues. It is through this more holistic approach to the needs of refugees and internally displaced persons that communities can begin to lay the seeds of long-term recovery and reduce the traumatic impacts on a generation of Syrians that have been uprooted by this conflict.
Margo Berends is a Program Analyst at Global Communities. She was a Sustainable Development Fellow with Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and holds degrees in Political Sciences and Economics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Learn more about Global Communities at www.globalcommunities.org