Syria: Humanitarian Aid, a Lifeline for Displaced People

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The Irish Red Cross Syria Crisis Appeal is continuing to support families affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria.  The displacement of millions of people across Syria has resulted in complete dependency on humanitarian assistance in some parts of the country. Crossing front lines and finding ways to reach people in need is becoming more urgent than ever before.

"The absence of humanitarian assistance could have catastrophic consequences for some hundreds of thousands of people across Syria," said Jeroen Carrin, in charge of the ICRC's relief activities in the country. "An increasing number of displaced people now have neither income nor savings, and are completely dependent on the generosity of fellow Syrians and of the international community."

Obtaining exact figures of the number of people displaced inside Syria remains difficult, as many live in areas that are hard to reach while others do not register as displaced. The Syrian Arab Red Crescent estimates, however, that the number now exceeds 3.6 million.

Owing to an ever-expanding circle of violence, many tens of thousands of people have been uprooted not just once but multiple times as fighting has caught up with them. Once displaced, people often take refuge in public facilities such as schools, sports stadiums, cultural centres, mosques and churches. Some people take refuge temporarily in building shells or run-down houses, often in very miserable conditions. "I have seen up to 21 people, including children, crammed into a two-room apartment. There is barely room for everyone to lie down and sleep at the same time, let alone have any privacy," said Mr Carrin, describing the situation of three displaced families in Lattakia.

Although people are being displaced throughout the country, the scale of displacement is greater in northern and central governorates such as Idlib, Aleppo, Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, Homs, Hama and Rural Damascus than in southern governorates. According to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, some 35,000 people recently fled Raqqa for Deir Ezzor on one single day because of heavy fighting in the city.

ICRC staff who made visits during March of several days each to Deir Ezzor, Idlib and Aleppo, in areas controlled by both parties to the conflict, also spoke of very difficult living conditions and huge humanitarian needs. "With each visit to those places, we witnessed more and more how destitute people were and how they totally relied on humanitarian assistance," said Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC delegation in Syria.

Crossing front lines is increasingly becoming an absolute necessity to reach people in need, especially in areas sealed-off for months. "We have crossed the lines repeatedly over the past couple of weeks and we will continue to do so. We brought aid to people who have been completely cut off for as long as four months, in Deir Ezzor for example, where we were last week. We were able to go there because of the dialogue we have with the parties to the conflict. We also had to request 'humanitarian pauses' in some cases. This kind of operation necessarily involves taking risks, but how else can you bring aid to the people who need it in a conflict zone?," asked Ms Gasser.

Photo: Lattakia, Syria. A girl and her young brother stand next to the family tent in a sports stadium serving as a centre for displaced persons. © ICRC / R. Kamal

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