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A Jesuit Refugee Service volunteer who works in the field kitchen in Aleppo. JRS food security programmes have benefited more than 123,000 people in Syria. (Jesuit Refugee Service)
Washington DC, 7 March 2014 – The 15 March marks the third anniversary of the Syria crisis. The Jesuit Refugee Service USA is joining #WithSyria, and with millions of people and other organisations across the globe, to shed light on the desperate situation and urge immediate and unfettered access for humanitarian aid to protect the hundreds of thousands of innocent children and families now under siege. The world can no longer remain indifferent to their plight.

Syria is the biggest humanitarian crisis of our day, and the situation is deteriorating as violence intensifies and fighting continues throughout the country. More than nine million Syrians are in urgent need of assistance, two-thirds of them inside Syria, displaced from their homes, schools, jobs, and communities. In besieged towns, families are experiencing hunger and severe levels of malnutrition. Three hundred people flee their homes in fear every hour. More than 100,000 people have been killed. Lack of protection marks the conflict, with troubling reports of abuse against women and children, including rape. 

"I find the most stressful thing is that when you leave the house in the morning, you don't know if you'll ever see the others again. We can't go out at night, we are always trapped inside. It's suffocating", said a Jesuit Refugee Service volunteer in Syria.

"After so much continuing violence, Syrians are really tired – frustrated and tired. We need those fighting each other to recall the existence of a minimum of human ethics and respect for basic humanity. We feel abandoned", said Fr Nawras Sammour SJ, JRS Middle East Director, during a recent trip to the US.

Our firm belief in a real and inclusive peace is the cornerstone of our advocacy, whose aim is to engage the international community to work towards key goals. Our priority is to promote diplomatic efforts and to apply pressure on the Syrian government and opposition groups to agree upon an immediate ceasefire and to reach a negotiated solution. 

"War is not going to solve anything", said Fr Sammour.

"We need to have a peaceful process, we need to get people together and allow them to talk together. … and that’s my hope".

JRS in Syria is focusing mainly on two fronts: emergency relief to those in greatest need and educational activities that enhance reconciliation and co-existence amongst people of different socio-economic and faith backgrounds.

Currently, the emergency relief consists of food support, provision of hygiene kits, non-food items such as blankets and clothing, basic healthcare, managing of shelters and rent support. Fundamental to the mission of JRS in Syria is the educational and psychosocial support that is offered to 9,800 children and women. In total, more than 300,000 people are helped by JRS in Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and the coastal areas of Syria.

In addition to building strong relationships based on trust and fairness, JRS has its unique way of working with families. Accompaniment, one of the pillars of JRS work is embodied in recurrent family visits, which are at the heart of every JRS project across the region. Through the visits, JRS is able to identify the needs of families, and more importantly, to address these needs through accompaniment.

While coordination between JRS, Jesuit networks, hundreds of committed volunteers, other Christian and Muslim entities and secular organisations help civilians receive much needed support, this assistance it is not sufficient to meet the rising needs. By and large, the international community has not adequately supported Syrian civil society initiatives, a process that needs to be reversed.

According to the UN, the number of Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance has risen dramatically to 9.3 million people, up from 6.8 million in June 2013. Similarly, the number of people displaced within the country has increased from 4.25 million to more than 6.5 million. Every day of violence adds to this number, and leaves increasing numbers of civilians in need in inaccessible areas under siege. Three million are trapped in hard-to-reach or besieged areas, with an estimated 250,000 people cut off from assistance for more than a year. 

The overall number of refugees fleeing Syria rose more than four-fold during 2013, and has now reached more than 2.5 million. This number is continuing to rise as hostilities intensify inside the country. Countries bordering Syria are approaching a dangerous saturation point – particularly Lebanon, where there are more than 900,000 refugees. These neighbouring countries need urgent support to continue keeping borders open and assisting refugees. 

JRS teams work in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey providing urgent assistance and educational and psychosocial support. These countries are struggling to cater for and absorb growing numbers of refugees. Existing infrastructures and service providers face enormous pressure and palpable tensions between host communities and Syrians. International development donors should provide greater technical and financial support in order to ease the pressure and help refugees and vulnerable local households alike. For those most vulnerable refugee households, they should have access to resettlement or temporary protection admission to Europe, the United States and other countries wiling to share the burden with the immediate neighbours of Syria.  

The nature and magnitude of the humanitarian needs are critical throughout Syria. The focus is on life-saving activities — treating and evacuating the wounded, as well as water, sanitation, health, shelter, and food. 

About half of those suffering are children. If nothing is done, we will lose an entire generation of young people to this war. It is increasingly likely that we will see half of the pre-war Syrian population of 22 million internally displaced or living as refugees. 

On this third anniversary of the Syrian conflict, we stand with Syria and commit to doing everything we can to ensure that the people of Syria do not lose another year to bloodshed and suffering. We stand with the people of Syria, and people around the world, in calling for our leaders to make the same commitment. Specifically, JRS USA and our colleagues at InterAction call on:

  1. All parties to the conflict in Syria to work with the United Nations and donor governments to immediately allow and facilitate unfettered humanitarian access throughout Syria in keeping with the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 2139.
  2. Donor governments to meet the 2014 UN humanitarian funding appeal of $6.5 billion for the Syria crisis.
  3. Donor governments to continue to support neighbouring countries and host communities that are generously supporting refugees fleeing the conflict, including support for training programmes and job opportunities that encourage self-reliance.
  4. The international community to increase resettlement of refugees from Syria, particularly the most vulnerable, to third countries and ensure that resettlement and asylum is a component of the overall humanitarian response. 

Please read the below Statement by InterAction Member CEOs, including Armando Borja of Jesuit Refugee Service USA, on the Third Anniversary of the Syrian Conflict.

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