24/04/2013 - Every time I check UNHCR’s page where all the newest data, reports and statistics are gathered and updated around the clock, the number of refugees has risen. One of those numbers is Hiba whose children are confined to the tiny apartment, apart from when they go to Save the Children and (European Commission’s Department for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection) ECHO’s psychosocial support workshop. Reem’s name is also behind one of those numbers, waiting to be registered with UNHCR. She tells me she’s lost count of those she’s lost, among them her husband and cousins. There is Roqaya who lost her three sisters. And then there is Rahma.
“Last week, I spent half the cash on vegetables, medicine and diapers, Rahma tells me. She lives in a two-bedroom flat in Zarqa, northern Jordan, with her husband Mohamad, her children and grandchildren. There are 23 people living in the flat. “Every day we cry, talk about old times in Syria, watch the news, pray. And then we sleep.” Rahma says.
There is no heating. Mohamad has diabetes but the family can’t afford to buy him medicine. They need to prioritise and the children come first. The remaining stocks of medicine they have are stored in a black plastic bag, hanging by the window. A colleague of mine scribbles down the name of the pills Mohamad is supposed to be taking.
Save the Children and ECHO are providing Rahma’s family, as well as more than 2 000 other families, with 250 JOD (350 USD) in a period of three months. It is not a big amount but it covers some of the day to day expenses. Most spend it on blankets, heaters, health care and groceries.
The needs are big and Rahma’s family is only one of many. Mohamad explains that no need is bigger than another. “The most important thing is being safe. You can cope with being hungry and thirsty as long as you’re safe,” says Mohamad.
And their family is in safety. Now there are simply new challenges, such as making a living and coming to terms with one’s identity as a refugee; with an uncertain future. Once in the hosting country, a new reality checks in. Yes, one’s family managed to reach safety on the other side of the border, but what now becomes an issue is caring for your children and grandchildren and trying to provide routine and security; something all children need to thrive and develop. And for a refugee with limited means who has just recently escaped a war zone – that is quite a task.
Like Rahma and Mohamad, most people flee after taking a hasty decision that their lives were in grave danger and that they had to leave, no matter what. Nearly all cross the border with no possessions at all, perhaps a few personal valuables in a bag.
And when you put your life on the line and tempt to escape from war in Syria in the middle of the night, all you can think about is staying alive and making sure that your children will come out of this journey alive. Material things don’t matter anymore, all that matters is ensuring that your children are out of harm’s way.
Today, between 7 000 and 12 000 refugees are crossing the border to Syria’s five neighboring countries every day. A great majority crosses during nighttime, hoping the darkness will keep them safe.
What is frightening is that this is something that won’t go away in the next month. Neither will it in the next 6, 12, not even 18 months. This is a complex regional crisis that now has entered its third year, one of the biggest ones Save the Children and ECHO have seen for years.
A staggering fact is that more than half of those crossing are children. The total number of those that have fled Syria is now more than 1.2 million, and will round 2 million this summer. That means hundreds of thousands of children missing out on education, not getting proper nutrition, health care nor feeling safe.
Being able to care for one’s children brings dignity back to parents. So does not having to wait in line for humanitarian aid. For fathers that were breadwinners and mothers that were caretakers back in Syria, having money to decide for themselves how to best take care of their children again, brings some of their lost dignity back. In the words of Saba, Save the Children’s programme director: “For a parent, there is nothing harder than not being able to meet your children’s basic needs”. And that is what Save the Children’s and ECHO’s cash assistance program is to prevent from happening.
By Hedinn Halldorsson
Save The Children’s Emeregency Communication Manager