Tuesday, May 17, 2016

An urgent appeal for the people of Syria

The scale of the destruction in Syria was brought home to me recently when I watched a video circulating on social media. Taken from a drone, it shows in graphic detail what five years of conflict have done to Syrian cities like Aleppo and Homs.

Those haunting images – houses, streets, entire suburbs reduced to piles of rubble – made me wonder how anyone could still be living in these places. No wonder nearly 5 million Syrians have sought safety across the border. No wonder this war has become the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time and UNHCR’s largest ever relief operation.

For five years, UNHCR has led the international relief effort for Syrians living as refugees in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. We've been working on the frontline, providing protection, relief and services to displaced families living in camps and in the community as urban refugees.

We are also helping the 6.5 million people who are displaced inside Syria and struggling to survive in a warzone. In recent months UNHCR has been able to expand these internal operations, leading cross-line relief missions to deliver essential supplies to people in stricken suburbs of Aleppo and Damascus as well as many hard-to-reach and besieged villages and towns.

I know it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of this crisis. We need to remind ourselves that behind the daunting statistics are the stories of individual people.

People like 4-year-old Ahmed who has never known peace. Born just after the conflict began, this bright little boy has grown up in a collective shelter in the besieged city of Aleppo. His family lives in a tall unfinished building with no walls where he is often exposed to rain and cold winds, as well as the danger of falling to the streets below.

Ahmad was very excited in February when a relief convoy finally made it through to his part of the city. “I am waiting for my parents to get my blanket and winter clothes,” he told my UNHCR colleagues at the distribution centre. “Yes, all I need during this cold weather is that grey blanket and those new clothes. Today I am very happy to get them.”

We hear the stories of so many people like this across the Syrian region.

People like 12-year-old Ivra who, living in a camp in Turkey, is losing all hope of fulfilling her dreams of the future. She used to spend her free time with her friends in Kobane, listening to One Direction and dreaming of becoming a famous singer. She doesn’t know exactly where her friends are now. They are scattered in camps and dwellings across the region. Ivra treasures the time she spends at school in the refugee camp but because the school is so overcrowded, she can only stay there for four hours a day. She doesn’t hold high hopes for where this education could take her.

People like Hamda who, at the age of 106, never imagined she’d be living out her days in a rented room in Lebanon with the power disconnected. “At first we only heard bombing in the distance, but within a few weeks they were upon us,” she says sadly, recalling the day her entire town was destroyed. “Maybe it’s a good thing that God took my eyesight before I saw the destruction of my country.”

These are some of the many thousands of people who will benefit from our new Syria Emergency Appeal. Australia for UNHCR supporters have made a major contribution to the relief effort over the past five years, contributing more than AU$4 million in shelter, essential relief items and vital services like health care and schools for Syrian refugees.