As the shocking events in Ukraine unfold and millions of people are fleeing for safety, we could be forgiven for missing the 11th anniversary of the Syria crisis this week. But especially in these times, we must listen to the voices of war victims and show the long-term consequences of war.
The EU helps refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries, providing impartial aid to vulnerable people inside Syria through over 30 humanitarian partners.
With the war dragging on, a plunging economy, a water crisis and COVID-19 adding more layers of misery, humanitarian needs have never been so high.
Helping people through the winter
“I received $150 (€138) for heating. I refilled the gas cooking stove and bought winter clothes for the children. I also paid back some debts,” says Mohamed.
Since they first had to flee their home in rural Idlib, in northwestern Syria, Mohamed, his wife and 6 children have been displaced many times. Today, they are back home even if life will never be the same again.
“We were never concerned about winter. Each home had air conditioning and diesel stoves. No one installed a wood stove,” Mohamed said. “These days, we’re dying of cold as we cannot afford wood. Stoves are expensive and I improvised this stove myself.”
This past winter saw floods and snowstorms rip through Syria. We allocated €9 million in humanitarian aid to help 300,000 vulnerable people like Mohamed with cash, tent insulation, heating, blankets, shelter and winter kits.
“Now we are back home, but there are no work opportunities as there are neither factories nor workshops,” Mohamed said. “But at least we are at home where we feel more secure and dignified. We often felt humiliated while we were in displacement.”
Education in emergencies
“The thing I like most about my day is going to school and seeing my teacher. The thing that worries me the most is the possibility of being displaced again,” says Anwar*.
The EU spends 10% of its humanitarian aid budget on education in emergencies. The importance of such support in Syria, where a generation of children has only known a life of displacement, cannot be overstated.
“I still remember details of our old house in the village, which we were forced to flee from after the shelling,” said 7-year-old Anwar. “I do not believe my life has changed for the better; there is always something that worries or scares me.”
The EU supports Save the Children and other partners to provide children with education, child protection, medical care and recreational activities. Although many displaced parents count on their children bringing money home, Anwar’s were persuaded to let their son attend the renovated school in the camp.
“The most important thing that happened to me recently is meeting my friend Hamza* at school,” Anwar said. “We go to school together, study and play together. He is like a brother to me.”
Water during a drought
“We used to bring water from any of the neighbours who had it, and we used to spend our whole day carrying water buckets home. So, this tank helped us a lot,” explains Hanan.
This past year, Syria experienced the worst drought in 70 years. The water crisis made an already bad situation even worse. The Middle East is said to be warming at twice the global average.
Hand washing being a pillar in COVID-19 prevention, ensuring access to safe water became an even higher priority for EU-funded actions in Syria.
“Water is needed for bathing the kids, cleaning the house, washing the dishes and cooking,” Hanan said. “We need water to do all these things, and because of the pandemic, we need to clean more.”
Oxfam, the humanitarian partner who installed the water tank at Hanan’s house, aims to increase the share of safe water for vulnerable families in the countryside of Aleppo and rehabilitates damaged water networks.
Cash and food assistance
“I got my children eggs, yoghurt and vegetables, things that are not available in the food parcel,” says Rubin.
Rubin shops for eggs and vegetables to prepare an omelette for her husband and 3 daughters, something they haven’t eaten in years.
EU funding is improving the nutrition of vulnerable families across Syria through a combination of food and cash assistance. Rubin uses a card from the World Food Programme to buy fresh produce. She also receives a package of staple foods – oil, rice and sugar.
“Things deteriorated a lot from when I had my first 2 children,” Rubin said. “Living expenses used to be affordable, but now salaries are not even close to catching up with the skyrocketing prices.”
After war erupted, she and her husband Mazen decided to halt plans to expand their family. A decade later, finding out she was pregnant with Celin was surpising.
“I would get worried. I can’t afford to feed her, to buy diapers. What if she gets sick?” Rubin said. “If it wasn’t for the cash assistance, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to feed her solid foods without taking food away from her sisters. It really is helping us cope with our lives after all that we’ve been through.”
“When the war started, we fled. Four years later, when we returned, we found the bakery had been destroyed. Now, I hope it will never close again,” says Fawzi.
EU funding has helped to rehabilitate Fawzi’s bakery. It is a lifeline for many residents as it provides bread at subsidised prices for people in Aleppo. Due to the war, declining food production and a worsening economy, half the population in Syria faces food shortages.
When after being displaced, Fawzi returned home, he was heartbroken to see the bakery in ruins.
“I grew up in this place. But people were very happy when the work was completed,” he said. “I hope bread will always be available and will provide for everyone.”
"Without the mobile team’s support, I would be living with anxiety, and I would not be able to check on my health,” says Om Muhamad.
Across Syria, the EU and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) have partnered to provide women and girls with much needed reproductive health services. In the countryside, where there are no functioning health centres, we support a local association to run mobile health clinics.
46-year-old Om Muhamad suffered from persistent pain in her breast but didn’t seek help. She thought she wouldn’t be able to afford treatment if it was breast cancer. After 3 months, the mobile health team’s counsellor convinced her to get checked.
The doctor found a lump and arranged for her to have a mammography. It revealed cysts but ruled out breast cancer. She received treatment and continues to get support from the mobile team.
“Mental health is as important as physical health,” Om Muhamed said. “A big thanks to your services. You saved my life as I feel much better now.”
Story by Anouk Delafortrie, Regional Information Officer for Middle East and Southern Africa, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.
*Name has been changed
Publication date: 15/03/2022