Anne Garella, regional representative for Handicap International's emergency response mission in the Middle East, took time recently to explain how a drop in international funding is having devastating consequences for Syrian refugees. She also outlines Handicap International's regional priorities for 2015.
What is the situation in the Middle East after nearly four years of conflict in Syria?
Since the summer there has been an increase in armed offensives in Syria, the fighting is increasingly violent and the indiscriminate bombing raids on densely populated areas have intensified. Millions of Syrians have fallen victim to this violence: there are nearly 50 deaths every day and thousands of civilians have been forced to flee to find safety.
Lebanon and Jordan consider that they have now reached the limit in terms of their capacities to take in Syrian refugees and have closed their borders with Syria in order to limit the number of new arrivals, although no official announcement has been made. Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan are now the only countries in the region to which Syrians can turn. The figures speak for themselves: in 2012, the UNHCR registered 120,000 refugees in Turkey, but today the number stands at 1.6 million. Although this 'new' host country may appear to guarantee Syrians free access to education and health care, in practice the refugees still face some restrictions.
The situation in terms of international funding is also a cause for concern. ECHO's commitment, for example, has fallen from 350 million Euros in 2013 to just 100 million euros in 2015. At the same time, in 2012 there were 4 million people in need inside Syria, compared with 12 million today — more than half of the country's population. We are clearly dealing with a humanitarian response that is inversely proportional to the needs.
Is this also the case in Jordan and Lebanon?
Last November, the World Food Program announced that it was suspending aid to Syrian refugees outside of the camps, due to lack of resources. This decision had tragic consequences: in Jordan, Syrians do not have the right to work and so are completely dependent on humanitarian aid. So, for around ten days thousands of refugees had no way of getting any food. Since then, the distributions outside the camps, where most of the refugees are living, have started up again although the quantities have been reduced. Refugees have also had difficulties accessing health care in Lebanon and Jordan. Free health care for Syrians was withdrawn in these two countries because the health services were over-stretched and at breaking point. What are the families who do not have the resources to pay for treatment going to do?
We do not know how the hundreds of thousands of Syrians in Jordan and Lebanon will be integrated in the future. What we have seen so far is the grouping of refugees in camps — notably in Azraq and Zaatari in Jordan. This policy means they remain dependent on international aid, which is fast running out. There will also be issues to address in this area in the future.
What are Handicap International's priorities for helping the victims of the conflict in 2015?
The first priority is to provide care for the injured. There are approximately one million injured people in Syria today, around 8% of whom require orthopedic fitting. It is hard to believe that we are talking about nearly 80,000 people who will need a prosthesis or an orthosis. If this is to be achieved, the problem of access to victims of the conflict needs to be resolved. At the moment, working in Syria is very difficult for all humanitarian organizations which have to comply with numerous restrictions. Getting access to the civil populations is more problematic than ever, and we spend a lot of time and energy finding ways to get the help to those who need it: in particular through our partners who are already working in the country.
The second priority is Iraq. The association has been working in Iraq for many years, relying on the support of a dynamic network of local organizations. Handicap International launched an emergency mission last May to bring help to persons displaced by the recent armed violence. The association has since provided humanitarian aid to displaced Iraqi populations and Syrian refugee populations in Iraq – regardless of where they have come from.
We hope to extend our efforts across the rest of the country with the support of the networks that we initially set up in the 1990s. This will serve to meet the needs of all the people in all the areas affected by the violence — not only in Kurdistan. It is also essential that we carry out awareness-raising work with the populations regarding the dangers of mines and explosive remnants of war. Indeed, Iraq is the second most polluted country in the world after Afghanistan, and the remnants remaining after the current fighting on the roads, in the fields and in people's homes will only make the situation worse. We have to act quickly.