Tuesday 02 October 2012
ShelterBox's position in Syria
A man carries his daughter as he walks in Bab Al-Salam refugee camp in Azaz August 29, 2012. Photograph taken by Reuters/Youssef Boudlal, courtesy the Thomson Reuters Foundation – AlertNet.
What started out as a peaceful protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the southern Province of Deraa in March 2011 has degenerated into a regional interethnic civil war.
The growing violence, sectarian tensions and economic hardship has forced more and more Syrian families to flee not only their homes with around 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs); but also their country with over 294,000 refugees in neighboring countries, according to the latest report from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
With the escalating conflict hindering aid agencies going into Syria, ShelterBox is working to help people in need.
With the restricted access to Syria, we have explored other avenues through the surrounding nations of Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, but each has its challenges and limitations.
There are ShelterBoxes prepositioned with the Jordanian Red Crescent in the capital, Ammam, which were originally planned to be used to set up transit camps along the border to accommodate the influx of Syrian families into Jordan. Existing transit camps have been criticized by the international community for inadequate standards, resulting in the Jordanian government becoming wary of setting up future transit camps.
“The Jordanian Red Crescent is working on alternative solutions with the government of Jordan to set up a transit camp,” said ShelterBox operations coordinator, Tom Lay.
“Currently the security situation in Syria does not allow for a safe return by families. There is every chance they will become displaced again and even victimized for having received international assistance.
“Therefore, we will use the relationships between the Jordanian and Syrian Red Crescent societies. The latter is granted the most humanitarian access in Syria of any humanitarian organizations and will distribute boxes on our behalf to families attempting to return to their homes in Syria once the situation allows for this.”
Safety of ShelterBox Response Teams (SRTs) and the practicalities of logistics are constraints for ShelterBox in the Arab region. However, ShelterBox monitor need.
The Turkish government is retaining complete control of the assistance to refugees crossing their border. They have issued a list of materials that they require in order to meet the needs, distributing it to the humanitarian community in Turkey, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“IOM's chief of mission has asked us if we would be willing to explore options in partnership with them including winterized tents, kitchen sets, blankets and stoves,” said operations coordinator, Fionn Mckee. “It is a concept stage and there are no guarantees the Turkish authorities will accept aid under any conditions but is a good possible avenue for the future.”
ShelterBox is working to develop partnerships with civil society organizations (CSO) based in Western Iraq in order to establish, and where appropriate, support the region’s emergency shelter needs, particularly as winter draws closer.
A key strength of ShelterBox is its flexibility to operate alongside the giant UN agencies as well as small community based organizations. This approach allows ShelterBox to find and address the needs of communities across countries and territories through a neutral and impartial engagement strategy based on humanitarian principles. In this way, ShelterBox sometimes make the impossible, possible.
Fear of registration
In Lebanon, the ongoing fear of destabilization of the country and continuing fear toward registration amongst the Syrian families means the estimated refugee population is far lower than the reality.
In August, an SRT traveled to Lebanon to explore a response with various agencies and contacts, including the Lebanese Ministry for Social Affairs. Due to resistance toward camps, ShelterBox is seeking alternative avenues while its considering response across the religious sects.
“We have to stay neutral and not be perceived as taking sides in Lebanon ,” said ShelterBox operations coordinator, Alice Jefferson.
“We are currently liaising with a number of organizations including Handicap International, which has teams on the ground reporting that hard shelter is being prioritized by the humanitarian community.”
ShelterBox follows humanitarian organizational principles that are beneficiary-led; with these numerous challenges in the region, food, medicine and protection are immediate priorities.
However, with the end of the harvest's income for renting or home improvement and impending freezing conditions of winter fast-approaching, guaranteed influx to a saturated real estate market, and lack of other international nongovernmental organizations’ shelter provision, the need for shelter will become more and more important.