OVER 200,000 PEOPLE have fled Syria for neighbouring countries since the beginning of violence in their home country. Ireland gave €500,000 in aid to support their plight earlier this year and announced this week that €1.5m more would be pledged from our official Irish Aid programme.
As Minister of State for Trade and Development at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Joe Costello TD visited a refugee camp in Jordan on Monday of this week. The camp is close to the Syrian border and has hosted more than 22,000 Syrians.
He writes here first-hand of the situation for refugees – and what they can tell us about events inside Syria.
Images: Department of Foreign Affairs.
BACK IN MARCH, the Irish people, through Irish Aid – the government’s official programme of assistance to developing countries – generously provided €500,000 to meet the needs of civilians who had been affected by the violence in Syria. Tragically, since then, the conflict has intensified and spread across most of the country, resulting in a large scale regional refugee crisis.
Despite conflicting accounts of the situation, what has been obvious is that humanitarian needs have been escalating dramatically. Today over 2.5 million people are in urgent need of assistance inside Syria and over 200,000 people, mostly women and children, have made the perilous journey across Syria’s borders into neighbouring countries.
In order to better understand how our humanitarian aid can be targeted to reach those most affected by the violence and how Ireland can help bring about a sustainable political solution to the crisis, I decided to pay a visit to the region to learn for myself what is the situation on the ground.
On Monday of this week I travelled to Za’atari refugee camp, about 80 kilometres north of Jordan’s capital Amman and close to the border with Syria. Since it opened in July, more than 22,000 Syrians have sought refuge here. When I arrived the dust whirled into my eyes and the heat beat down. Aoife McDonnell, the UN High Commission for Refugees’ impressive camp coordinator from Cork, told me that some 3,500, many of them children, had made the perilous journey the night before.
“Many believe this is the start of a much larger influx”
In conversation with some of the refugees, they recounted harrowing stories of indiscriminate violence against the civilian population in Syria – including aircraft bombing, shelling and mortars. They reported that there are thousands more refugees waiting to cross the border, which many believe will be the start of a much larger influx.
UNHCR and its partners are racing to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding refugee population in Za’atari. They are urgently pitching more tents and expanding the camp, as well as struggling to provide food, water and health care. With no solution to the conflict in sight, there is also an immediate need to prepare the camp for winter in advance of the drop in temperatures. It was clear to me that the UNHCR are using the limited resources they have, but that this may simply not be enough.
Later in the day I met Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Planning. Listening to them I was impressed by the generosity of the Jordanian people who have tried to help their neighbours to the very best of their abilities. Jordan is a resource poor country, which already hosted high numbers of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees even before this conflict. They have done so much themselves in receiving and providing for this new influx of refugees but today they are feeling the pressures of this challenge and require the help of the international community.
On this visit I was proud to be able to announce on behalf of the Irish people a further €1.5 million from Irish Aid’s existing funds for refugee support in Jordan and emergency health and humanitarian assistance inside Syria through the UNHCR, the World Health Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Rescue Committee. In addition to this essential life saving support, humanitarian supplies such as tents, mattresses, kitchen sets, water tanks and jerry cans will also be provided from our Rapid Response stocks in Dubai.
During my visit, the Government of Jordan, the aid agencies on the ground, and the refugees themselves, expressed their thanks for the solidarity and generosity of the Irish people in responding to this crisis. Unfortunately, we continue to hear terrible reports of massacres inside Syria. However, both the humanitarian agencies in the region and Ireland are now in a better position to help alleviate the suffering and act constructively to find the peaceful solution that is so desperately needed.