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Syrian refugee crisis: Selling a child to feed a family
Abbotsford News editor Andrew Holota is reporting on the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan and Lebanon this week, with the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB), one of the nation's largest non-governmental aid organizations. It has been funding refugee relief in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria since the summer. CFGB is a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies, partnering with a number of NGOs in Jordan and Lebanon, assisting them with funding to deliver aid.
Abbotsford is an important donor community for CFGB, which receives 4-1 Canadian government matching funds and partners with other NGOs such as World Renew in Canada and around the world to deliver food aid.
"We cannot be human, living on Earth if we cannot be human to people, and touch people.
"… one of the ways is to provide a little bit – a little bit of their needs."
Those are the words of Ruba Abbasi, director of Arab Women Today (AWT) in Amman, Jordan, which is working with World Renew through funding from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) to provide aid and support to Syrian refugees in Jordan, driven there by civil war.
There are now 1.4 million refugees in that country, in a variety of living conditions, from rental accommodations to tents in fields.
Abbasi's perspective is almost a mantra for every aid agency, church and support organization assisting Syrian refugees, as the numbers and need are overwhelming in their entire scope.
In addition to the World Food Organization and the United Nations Humanitarian Commission on Refugees, responding to the challenge of refugee relief are an array of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The CFGB, a partnership of 15 churches and church agencies, partners with a number of NGOs in Jordan and Lebanon, assisting them with funding to deliver aid. Key among them is World Renew, run by the Christian Reformed Church.
The AWT and the Arab Center for Consulting and Training Services in Amman are among those agencies, with a focus on the needs of women, both for basic survival and emotional well-being.
Women and children are prominent among Syrian refugees – up to 65 per cent. Their situations are acute, as many have lost husbands, or left them behind in the Syria. They come with little or no money, and in many cases, even less hope.
"They become more traumatized, even after they get to Jordan. They watched their homes, their relatives, their family members killed in front of them, and then another trauma as they fled their place … and then they get here and discover they have to deal with a new life – it's like a new beginning," said Abbasi.
And these Arab women are starting over from a social status level that Abassi called "not even second class citizen, sometimes third or fourth class citizen."
Maran Maayh, a manager with ACCTS, described the new world for women refugees.
"They are the mother and father now… sometimes grandparent. Most men are assassinated, or are still fighting, or they can't find them. They disappeared, maybe in the prison. Many women don't know where their husbands are."
The women often have four to five children, sometimes more. Short of receiving refugee aid, for some women the choices are stark.
When would a mother marry off her 10-year-old daughter to an 60- or 70-year-old wealthy man willing to pay $10,000 Jordanian dollars (about $15,000 CAN), or sell a teenaged daughter for a night for $100?
"When you are hopeless," said Maayh.
When the option for a mother is to let all of her children "suffer to death from hunger."
There are an estimated 3.4 million Syrian refugees, living in communities close to the Syrian and Lebanon borders. In Jordan, roughly only three-quarters are legally registered. Many who flee Syria choose not to register with the United Nations, afraid they'll be hunted down and persecuted or worse if they ever try to return to their country.
Those who have money or possessions left to sell live in rented rooms, the price of which is escalating. Those who cannot afford a roof over their heads must settle for less comfortable and secure accommodations, such as tent cities in four separate camps. Such facilities currently house up to 300,000 in five locations.
The needs are common throughout. People need money to pay rent, buy food, and prepare for the winter with heating stoves, oil and warm clothing.
Relief agencies are working to meet as many as those needs as possible as the Middle Eastern winter creeps closer.
And while the World Food Organization is reportedly feeding close to three million refugees inside and out of Syria, gaps in aid remain.
That's where Canadian Foodgrains Bank, through its network of church member agencies, step in.
And when humanitarian aid doesn't meet the needs of people who desperately need it, what fills the gap?
The answer comes from Ken Little, senior project manager, international disaster response for World Renew, an aid agency run by the Christian Reformed Church, which is active in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, responding to the needs of refugees created by civil war in the latter country.
" … we're going to have to be thinking about short-term emergency response for quite awhile."
For more information on the CFGB visit www.foodgrainsbank.ca
For more information on World Renew visit www.worldrenew.net
More in the series on the Syrian refugee crisis