Syria is currently facing the largest numbers of displaced people in the world: 7.6 million people are internally displaced and more than 4 million have fled to neighbouring countries and beyond. These families face unimaginable levels of violence and poverty, lacking access to the most basic shelter, water, food and medicines.
While the tragedy grows, humanitarian aid is drastically reduced due to funding shortages, and the lack of response of nations around the world. In the meantime, the violence in Syria remains endemic and all-encompassing. Sharan Burrow, president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has called on governments, unions and civil society to redouble their efforts to open their homes and hearts to help stem the refugee crisis.
It wasn’t until the arrival of tens of thousands of Syrians to Europe’s borders and the shocking deaths of women, children and men risking everything out of sheer desperation, that the international community began to react. The CLC called on its affiliates to support the settlement of Syrian refugees in Canada through the Canadian Council on Refugees. The PSAC Social Justice Fund, CUPE, OSSTF, UNIFOR, the USW and others have responded to that call. But much more needs to be done!
Thanks to contributions from Agriculture, NEU, UCTE and UNE components and from the SJF Humanitarian budget, the Social Justice Fund has channeled a total of $23,000 for Syrian refugees.
Half of those contributions were allocated to the CLC relief fund to support the settlement of Syrian refugees in Canada and the other half was allocated to OXFAM that is providing vital humanitarian support to the internally displaced inside Syria and to those families who have escaped to neighbouring countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon.
In the winter months, Sawere, a Syrian refugee settlement in Lebanon's Bekka Valley, turns into a river of mud. Makeshift tents often flood. OXFAM is ensuring that settlements have access to safe water and emergency sanitation services and essential services such as fuel for heating over the winter months.
Inside Syria, OXFAM is one of the few organizations providing clean water through rehabilitation of infrastructure, water trucking and repairing of wells to the internally displaced population. It also provides technical support, capacity building and staff training; social and community services for the most vulnerable groups, such as women and children; livelihoods support and early recovery programs for the affected population.
The PSAC Social Justice Fund intends to strengthen its efforts to assist Syrian refugees and displaced peoples.
“Globally, the humanitarian response to the Syrian crisis is only half funded and aid organizations are struggling to deliver programs. In fact, many Syrian refugees have seen their food support cut by 50% this year because of a lack of funding – a severe blow to families in Sawere and other refugee settlements in the area, who were already unable to make ends meet. They are extremely worried about facing the oncoming winter with little food, no heating oil and inadequate living conditions.
“Last winter was horrible,” said Fatima. "It was a very hard winter in Lebanon, but worst of all for us, in the refugee settlements. We got some support from Oxfam and are very thankful. But it is not enough. We don’t want to burn our rubber sandals again in order to keep warm. What kind of life is that?
"One out of four people living in Lebanon right now is a refugee, and the small country is struggling to cope under such strain. As the violence in Syria shows no signs of abating, the humanitarian situation is only getting worse – for those trapped inside the country, for those living as refugees in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, and for those making the often perilous journey across the Mediterranean in search of a better future."
From Melanie Gallant's blog on her trip to Lebanon.
[Photos: Melanie Gallant, Oxfam Canada, blog from her trip to Lebanon]