The Syrian Civil War just reached its fifth dreadful anniversary. The war has led to the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation.
Millions of Syrians have fled their homeland seeking refuge in other Middle Eastern countries and even onto Europe. The refugees can escape the fighting, but hunger and poverty follow them.
They need the help of humanitarian agencies like Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Since World War II, CRS has come to the rescue of displaced civilians and the Syria crisis is one of its biggest operations ever.
Caroline Brennan of CRS is a senior communications officer in their Humanitarian Response Department. She recently took time to answer questions about the hunger crisis facing the Syrian refugees and what people can do to help.
How many Syrian refugees has CRS fed since the war started five years ago?
We have provided assistance (see details below), along with our partners on the ground, to one million war-affected Syrians since the beginning of the war.
In which countries is CRS providing the food?
In collaboration with our Church and other local partners, we provide support for food assistance in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. From our offices in Turkey, we currently provide direct food distributions (“food baskets”). We also provided vouchers to uprooted Syrians in areas where diverse food items are available in the local markets.
In Jordan and Lebanon, CRS’ food assistance is provided primarily in the form of cash or vouchers for refugees to purchase food items of their preference in the local market. In Greece, we are supporting a soup kitchen that provides hot meals to refugees and migrants who have recently arrived from war-torn countries, or are stranded in the country as borders have recently closed to any refugee movement into the Balkan countries.
What do you see as the benefits of the food vouchers to the refugees?
As noted above, we provide food vouchers across the Middle East in our support to Syrian refugees. This is an ideal form of assistance when markets are open and have available supplies: the use of vouchers makes for faster assistance to a larger number of needy families; vouchers support the local economy and local shop owners, as direct distributions of food or supplies might otherwise displace their business—this way, they can keep their businesses going as we redeem the vouchers with the pre-identified vendors; lastly, vouchers (and cash grants) offer those who use them the dignity of choice—something so fleeting in an uprooted context.
Refugee families aren’t given food or assistance they might not want or need; rather, they can go to a shop and purchase what their family wants and needs the most. Wherever possible in emergency responses, CRS prioritizes market-based recovery, and vouchers and cash grants are a vital way of doing that when local conditions allow.
What are the biggest causes of hunger among Syrian refugees once they reach another country?
The needs to keep families fed is significant, and finding help is challenging and overwhelming. A majority of Syrian refugees are women and children. In Jordan alone, 76 percent of the Syrian refugee population is women and children. One of the biggest challenges we hear are from new mothers, who struggle to breastfeed with the physical impacts of trauma or stress.
The United Nations reported a shortfall of $15 billion in global humanitarian financing as thousands of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere struggle to cope with a lack of aid. The deteriorating conditions in Lebanon and Jordan, particularly the lack of food and healthcare, have become intolerable for many of the 4 million people who have fled Syria, driving waves of refugees towards Europe.
What kinds of initiatives does CRS have to help lift the refugees out of hunger and poverty?
In our emergency response and recovery efforts like that of the Syrian refugee crisis, CRS takes a comprehensive approach that addresses urgent lifesaving assistance with an eye toward a full recovery. Our goal is to help people survive with dignity, get back on their feet, rebuild their homes and lives, and strengthen their long-term stability and resilience.
At this time of such upheaval, we help people with comprehensive assistance that addresses the diverse needs of the individual, and the most relevant needs in the context. For refugees in the Middle East, our priority assistance is food, shelter, medical assistance, living supplies, trauma healing, education and care for children. In Europe, our support is tailored to the rapidly-evolving context: food, winter clothing and supplies, soap and hygiene material for people on the move, safe shelter options, and—perhaps most importantly—clear information about legal options for seeking asylum and international protection
Since the onset of the crisis in 2011, CRS has helped more than 1 million Syrians across the Middle East and southern Europe. In this effort, we are working to build the capacity of individuals, the local Church and thousands of small, local grassroots agencies for long-term resilience in these areas. We work with local partners who share our focus: to serve the poorest of the poor, to respect local customs and tradition, to empower communities to address their own development and to apply long-term, integrated, sustainable solutions. With locally relevant programs that are led by community members and flexible to evolving needs on the ground, people can rise above adversity with dignity, start the process of healing, and strengthen their opportunity to rebuild their lives.
Where does CRS get its funding to help the war victims?
CRS receives funding for the Syrian refugee crisis response from a number of different donors, including private, government, and others.
What can citizens in the United States do to help the refugees?
We’ve compiled a short list of what people can do: