Syria crisis - your questions answered
To mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the conflict we joined #WithSyria – a global coalition of 130 aid agencies and civil society groups from around the world – in calling for more to be done to stop the conflict and to get humanitarian aid to communities in need.
What has happened?
After four 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, according to a recent assessment, 4.8 million people are living in areas that are receiving little or no aid because of fighting.
The United Nations estimates that 12.2 million people are in need of aid in Syria – a figure that has risen sharply from 6.8 million in June 2013. More than 7.6 million people have been driven from their homes within Syria, and at least 3.8 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.
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. 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 medicines. The lack of safe drinking water and sanitation has led to an increase in waterborne disease. There have also been outbreaks of serious preventable diseases, like polio, 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. Thousands of people are fleeing into neighbouring countries every day, many with little more than the clothes they are wearing.
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.
How much has the CAFOD appeal raised?
Thanks to the immense generosity of our supporters, our appeal has so far raised more than £2.8 million. We have also received £620,000 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 three years, supporting people with immediate needs and – where possible – helping people to rebuild their lives for the long term.
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 £800 million 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, four years in, is still destroying millions of lives.
At least 3.8 million refugees have fled to neighbouring countries placing these states under enormous strain.
Britain prides itself on a tradition of offering help to those in need. Over the years we have offered refuge to thousands at risk from war or oppression, reaching out to Vietnamese, Ugandan Asians and Kosovars to offer them a home.
While we applaud Britain’s generous aid contribution to the crisis, it is clear that aid alone is not enough. Syria’s neighbours are struggling under the weight of this unprecedented crisis and it is time we stopped asking of them what we are not doing ourselves.
We are therefore calling on rich and developed countries to agree collectively to resettle at least 5 per cent of the total Syrian refugee population by the end of 2015. This is a modest but proportionate contribution and Britain’s fair share of that would involve offering hope for up to 10,000 Syrians in that time. That’s less than 0.3% of all the refugees, but would transform, even save, lives.
Life for the majority of Syrian refugees is desperate, but some are simply unable to survive in the region. For torture victims, women who have survived sexual violence, sick children who, without treatment, could die, life outside the war is a daily battle. These are the people Britain has promised to help and we must help more of them.
In this case, numbers speak louder than words. To do anything other than increase our pledge to thousands, not hundreds, would be to send the wrong message to Syria’s most vulnerable people, and the countries currently hosting them, all desperately asking for our help.