Syria crisis - your questions answered

20 October 2015

A Syrian refugee child holds free medicine given to her by a mobile clinic run by our partner Caritas Lebanon.

What has happened?

After four and a half years of civil war, the situation in Syria is catastrophic and continues to deteriorate. There is ongoing fighting between government forces and opposition groups across the country, and at least 4.8 million people are living in areas that are receiving little or no aid because of fighting.

The United Nations estimates that 13.5 million people are in need of aid in Syria. More than 6.6 million people have been driven from their homes within Syria, and at least four million registered refugees have fled the country. With many refugees unwilling or unable to register officially, the true figure is likely to be far higher. This is the biggest displacement crisis ever, and it has necessitated the largest humanitarian response in history.

Please donate to our Syria crisis appeal

What are the humanitarian needs?

Food and water: Because of blockades, sanctions, a lack of fuel and large-scale displacement, food is extremely difficult to access in many parts of Syria. Where food is available, prices have soared, making it increasingly hard for many families to afford: since 2011, the average monthly prices of wheat flour and rice have increased 301% and 629%, respectively. Water supplies have also been disrupted in many areas.

Healthcare: Most public hospitals in Syria have been destroyed or damaged because of the fighting, and the functioning ones are over-crowded. There are severe shortages of medicine. The lack of safe drinking water and sanitation has led to an increase in waterborne disease. There have been outbreaks of serious preventable diseases, like polio, typhoid and hepatitis A, because of a lack of healthcare in areas cut off by fighting.

Shelter and household goods: Many homes in Syria have been destroyed, and millions of people need shelter and support. More than four million people have fled to neighbouring countries, many with little more than the clothes they are wearing, while over 500,000 Syrians have registered for asylum in Europe since the war began.

Unemployment: The war has left the Syrian economy in tatters, and many families no longer have the means to make a living. Poorer families have been particularly badly affected.

Protection: There has been an increase in human rights violations, including massacres, indiscriminate bombing of towns and cities, kidnappings, torture of prisoners, rape and sexual assault. There have also been reports of children being recruited into armed forces.

Education: 2.7 million children are not currently in school - around half of all school-aged children.

How much has the CAFOD appeal raised?

Thanks to your immense generosity, our appeal has so far raised more than £3 million. We also received £790,000 as our portion from the joint appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee.

As in all our emergency appeals, we intend to spend these funds over several years, supporting people with immediate needs and – where possible – helping people to rebuild their lives for the long term.

Our Refugee Crisis appeal, supporting Syrian refugees in the Middle East and Europe, has raised more than £200,000. We have also received spontaneous donations from supporters of more than £140,000 towards our work in Iraq.

What are CAFOD and its partners doing?

We are supporting Church partners in Syria, who are providing food parcels, medical aid and relief supplies and helping people to find safe places to stay. Our partners are supporting people in need in areas held by both government and opposition forces. The extensive community networks of the Church, even as a minority faith, mean that it is well placed to provide aid in some of the worst hit and most inaccessible areas of the country.

Unfortunately, we are unable to name our partners in Syria or state exactly where they are working. This is because many of the aid workers, priests and volunteers we support are operating at great risk to their own safety; publicising their work could endanger both them and the life-saving programmes they are delivering.

We are also working with our Caritas partners in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to ensure that newly arrived refugees have food, medical support, clothes and safe places to stay.

And we are working in Iraq to help our Church partners to respond to the urgent needs of families forced from their homes. Our partners have supported thousands of people with immediate food, essential household goods, alternative housing, sanitation facilities, and psychosocial support to both children and adults.

CAFOD funding has directly helped more than 63,000 people. In total, thanks to donations from Catholics all over the world, our partners in the Caritas International network have reached more than 320,000 people.

Does CAFOD support western military intervention?

No. The situation in Syria is catastrophic, and we understand why governments around the world want to take some form of action in response. But in a very complex situation, we believe that the only lasting solution to the crisis will be a political settlement through dialogue and diplomacy. We support Pope Francis’s call on world leaders to “help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.”

We welcome the fact that the British government has committed more than £1 billion in aid to support people affected by the crisis, and we continue to urge politicians to do all they can to push for peace.

What’s life like for refugees?

The refugees are living wherever they can find shelter - in camps, cowsheds, derelict or half-built buildings, even in the open air. Children are often traumatised after seeing their parents killed or homes destroyed in front of them. They urgently need peace and the opportunity to go home and rebuild their lives.

Should Britain accept refugees from Syria?

The conflict in Syria has caused the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation and is still destroying millions of lives. At least 4 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries placing these states under enormous strain. A further 500,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe since 2011.

We welcome the UK government’s pledge to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Syrians who have fled to neighbouring countries, but are calling for this to happen more quickly and for more action to support refugees already in Europe.

Neil Thorns, CAFOD’s Director of Advocacy and Education, said: “While the Prime Minister’s offer to accept 20,000 refugees from countries neighbouring Syria is welcome, it doesn’t go far enough. For a start, the government is proposing to take in these refugees over five years, when the most vulnerable people need support immediately. The process of identification and resettlement needs to happen far more quickly.

“But it’s also important that the government doesn’t wash its hands of people who have already reached the EU. Hundreds of thousands of people have arrived this year, and many are living in poor conditions. While the government deserves praise for its aid contribution to the Syria crisis, it needs to play its part in dealing with the crisis on its doorstep as well.”

Please donate to our Syria crisis appeal

Voices from Syria: read our latest blogs about the crisis

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