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‘Aîcha is still very anxious and shy’, says her teacher. The 11-year-old girl (photo above; with her little sister) has experienced terrible traumas. Her mother was killed when their house was bombed. The family fled from northern Syria to Damascus. There, they live in a half-finished house where everything is lacking. The family survives with great difficulty. A civil war has been raging in Syria since March 2011, with still no political solution in sight. The war has led to the greatest humanitarian disaster in history: According to the United Nations (UNOCHA), 6.2 million Syrians, like Aîcha and her family, are displaced in their own country. In Syria, a total of 11.7 million people depend on humanitarian aid. At least 5.6 million others have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, which places a huge burden on social cohesion as well as on public services in the host countries.
Multiple displacements, destroyed livelihoods, as well as lack of access to services and everyday necessities have led to extremely difficult living conditions. Insecurity and the lack of long-term prospects drive people, after eight years of conflict, always between hope and fear, to the brink of exhaustion. At present, the conditions for a coordinated return of the refugees are still not in place
Since April 2012, Caritas Switzerland has carried out emergency aid projects with partner organisations in order to meet people’s most pressing needs. It has also continually expanded its work in the areas of education and income generation. Children make up half of the refugees. Often, they have no access to good quality education. The longer the people are unable to return home, the more important it is for them to be able to find ways of generating an income at their temporary place of residence so they do not become permanently dependent on emergency aid.
Emergency relief for vulnerable families and education for children
The people in Syria are fighting for survival. Caritas Switzerland has provided emergency relief since the beginning of the crisis, above all to meet basic needs. It currently supports people in Homs, Syria’s third largest city, with vouchers for food and hygiene items; but it also provides assistance with rents and basic medical care and improves local market access for 60 micro-enterprises.
Due to the war, there has been a massive increase in school drop-out rates and interrupted education. That is why Caritas offers children safe learning opportunities, tailored to their needs, in three social centres in Damascus, Aleppo and Tartus, and offers further training for teaching staff, particularly in dealing with traumatised children.
Confronting impoverishment with emergency aid and income generation
Jordan currently provides shelter for 670 000 registered Syrian refugees, and approximately the same number of unregistered refugees. They are becoming increasingly impoverished but also increasingly vulnerable. Since 2012, Caritas Switzerland has been providing assistance in four Jordanian provinces to cover basic needs, winter aid, emergency aid for hardship cases, and is improving the housing and hygiene conditions.
Since 2016, Caritas has provided vulnerable Syrian refugees and Jordanians with jobs in the waste disposal sector and is simultaneously helping to develop a sustainable waste management system. With a pilot project started in 2018, Caritas supports women in enhancing their income through milk processing.
Schooling, income generation and emergency aid by cash payments
No country in the world has more refugees per capita than Lebanon. The school system is struggling to cope. Half of the refugee children do not go to school, or drop out. Caritas Switzerland supports remedial tuition for refugee children and disadvantaged Lebanese children. It trains teachers and develops tools and guidance for teacher training.
More than a third of all Syrian refugees are accommodated in the very fertile Bekaa valley. A post-harvest marketing system for potatoes helps Syrian and Lebanese farmers to generate higher returns and creates jobs for less qualified workers. Caritas also offers further training for farmers.
Caritas Switzerland supports particularly vulnerable households in emergency situations with cash payments.