Friday 07 March 2014
SYRIA 3 YEARS ON - ‘Huddling for shelter in an ancient Roman tourist site’ - ShelterBox renews its efforts to help families fleeing war
Homeless families are finding shelter where they can, as here in the north of Syria.
This week marks three years since civil war in Syria sparked the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. Teams from UK based ShelterBox have worked tirelessly to get aid to thousands of refugees and internally displaced families. With a long term presence in four countries, now the charity is focusing on two fronts – in neighbouring Lebanon, and via a route into Syria itself.
‘The Syrian crisis is complex and bloody with no end in sight. But ShelterBox is able to make a real difference on the ground. We have developed strong partnerships with those able to operate on our behalf in the country, and through careful distribution management and the increasing use of technology, we are able to effectively identify and reach the most desperate.’
These are the words of Toby Ash, ShelterBox Response Team member newly arrived at a secret location near war-torn Syria. Nine months after his first deployment to the region, he has just returned to find the need for humanitarian assistance greater than ever.
Toby says, ‘The complex political situation in the country we are in remains, so we are still having to work ‘below the radar’, unable to reveal where we are operating from. Since my last visit, the security situation inside Syria has worsened dramatically and there are very few foreign aid workers operating directly inside the country.’
‘It has also prevented most journalists from reporting there. So, paradoxically, while Syria is the biggest humanitarian disaster in the world today, there is relatively little media coverage given over to it as there are so few reporters on the ground to tell the grim story.’
ShelterBox is currently working in or through four different countries, assisting some of the 2.5 million Syrian refugees who have fled the country, or channeling aid to 6.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) left inside Syria.
The team on the ground is preparing for a shipment of 400 tents and 2,400 blankets that is arriving imminently from the UK. They are working with trusted and proven local and international partners to distribute aid inside Syria itself.
Toby explains, ‘Our task is to ensure that aid gets to those most in need as quickly as possible. Yesterday we spent the afternoon looking at extraordinarily detailed satellite imagery and mapping of the hundreds of IDP camps on the other side of the border close to where we are based. We were able to identify those where ShelterBox aid could be of the most use. Some of these camps are small, containing about 50 families, others contain many thousands, all of whom have fled the fighting with little more than the clothes they are standing in. With the civil war grinding relentlessly on, the number of camps and their size are growing by the day.’
Toby Ash is accompanied by colleague SRT Anne Seuren, who has seen evidence of families huddling for shelter even in ancient monuments. “It is clear that the majority of people do not have adequate shelter. People are making do with whatever structures are available to them. Life is even returning to an old Roman settlement that was on the tourist map just a few years ago. If I hadn’t seen the images myself, I would never have believed that this former tourist destination is the only shelter these people can find against the elements.’
Partnership and planning are key to ShelterBox’s aid programme in the Syrian region. Toby adds, ‘We are not just sending aid over the border in the hope it will get to those in need - we have put a robust plan in place to ensure that it does. Having already identified the camps in most need of shelter, we will be sent the name and size of the families who will be receiving our assistance. Videos and photographs will also be taken so we have a clear record of who received what, where they are, and when they received it. Where ShelterBox tents are grouped together in large numbers, we will even be able to use satellite imagery to check their location and on-going use.’
As well as this route into Syria, ShelterBox is now also concentrating on Lebanon, where an estimated one in every four people is a refugee. A new Response Team arrives in Beirut shortly to oversee distribution of tents, blankets and solar lamps.
Hundreds of the tents are adapted so stoves can be used inside them, making them ideal for the colder areas in the Bekaa Valley. Distribution is via a long-established network of implementing partners, and is being managed remotely due to the unpredictable nature of aid work in Lebanon.
Notes to Editors
Subject to availability and security issues we are happy to connect you with our people in the region for their eyewitness accounts. Please arrange via Mark Nicholson, Media Relations Officer on 07584 489194.