On World Humanitarian Day, we recognize the shared roles we must play in responding to fellow human beings struggling in the face of extreme circumstances, be it natural disaster or the chaos and confusion of war.
But as we settle into the fifth year of the Syrian conflict, which has spilled over borders, drawing in a multitude of actors, the world’s response must be tried and found wanting. Despite the mass efforts of humanitarians, we are far from meeting the overwhelming needs of Syrian refugees. Much needed financial assistance is lacking, pressure to protect civilians falls on deaf ears, and the country continues to hemorrhage – at least 4 million Syrian refugees, more than 7.6 million internally displaced, and 12.2 million people are in need of assistance.
News media cover the war; the ebb and flow of battles, where ground is lost and then won, and then lost again, but discussion of the humanitarian consequences disappear. How can we continue to draw attention to the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War?
A recent study by CARE in Jordan found an increasing gap between refugee income and expenditures. Eighty percent of refugees worried about paying their rent; 60% were concerned about buying food. As the crisis wears on, refugees’ resources are waning.
Refugees living in Jordanian host communities have found themselves without sufficient income or savings to pay rent, buy food, or cover necessary healthcare expenses. Some have moved to Azraq camp, while others, unable to make ends meet, speak of returning to the uncertainty of life in a war zone back home, a terrifying but real alternative when they cannot afford the costs of a more secure environment.
But even in Azraq camp, where there is provision of food, water and shelter, these are not enough to show any perspectives for improved livelihoods. As the months and years wear on, longer-term solutions are required. Innovation and partnerships, whether rooted in the initiatives of the affected community or through private-public endeavours, must be encouraged and considered valid options. Almost five years after fleeing their homes, refugees need more than basic life-saving aid. Humanitarians are working to provide hope beyond the bare necessities, developing opportunities for education and recreation, a chance to learn and grow, to become more self-reliant. It is not enough to feed and house refugees; we must help them find a sense of normality, especially in the camp setting where people may too often fall victim to boredom, isolation or, worse, a future without hope.
In Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, CARE has partnered with UNHCR, Libraries Without Borders, and designer Philippe Starck, finding innovative ways for affected communities to utilize a customized library and media centre with internet access, supporting them with access to information, culture, education and training.
An incentive-based volunteer programme encourages Syrians to contribute to the well-being of the camp. Volunteering in both skilled and unskilled roles, refugees can earn an income while becoming more active participants in civil society. In Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, Syrian volunteers learn new skills as they work together addressing the shared problems of refugee and host communities.
Refugees like Mohammed Hasan, who is a Syrian artist and sculptor who volunteers at an Azraq camp community centre, and has participated in several vocational and self-development courses there. As a volunteer at the Ideas Box, he told colleagues: “I prefer to use my skills to help more people, not to keep what I have learned to myself.”
Also in Azraq, and in cooperation with Radio Netherlands, CARE is developing a content-management system to better provide up-to-date information-sharing with refugees. A network of flat-screen televisions on display in reception areas and other shared spaces in the camp will communicate necessary information to refugees, informing them of their rights, opportunities and services in the camp.
Whether in connecting refugees through the internet, or in facilitating a simple letter exchange between Somali refugee youth in Dadaab camp in Kenya and Syrian refugees in Jordan, we have helped communities share their experiences and build solidarity between peoples affected by war – separated by cultures and oceans, but with a shared history of having been forced to flee their homeland. People discover renewed strength in meeting the common experience of others.
Designing programmes that empower refugees, women and men, families can move beyond victimhood. A refugee programme in Turkey promotes protection by training Syrian information volunteers who meet with other refugees, one-on-one and in groups, discussing issues ranging from water, sanitation and hygiene.
As humanitarians, particularly in cases of prolonged crises, it is our job, vocation and commitment to find new and improved ways to build refugee capacities, encourage self-reliance and empower communities to seek and find ways to improve their lives. No refugee wishes to remain a refugee. No refugee should have to live with an indefinite return date, or worse, the continued denial of their human rights.
In Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen, Kenya and around the world, CARE and other NGOs are working to help refugees overcome the challenges they are facing, but we cannot do this alone. It requires financial assistance from governments and the support of the international community. It demands improved coordination between NGOs and the public and private sectors, and a willingness to be more flexible, innovative and accommodating when looking for new solutions to old problems. Whether in the camps of the Middle East, the host communities of neighbouring countries, or the corridors of power in Europe, North America or the Middle East – we must work together to address the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. There is no better time than now – let enterprising refugees be a cause to rally and our reason to hope.
Author: Wolfgang Jamann, Secretary-General and CEO of CARE International
Image: Residents, with their belongings, return to their villages on a pickup truck after Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters said that they retook control of the area from Islamic State in the southern countryside of Ras al-Ain May 13, 2015. REUTERS/Rodi Said