SHAFAQNA exclusive interview with UNHCR – the Syrian refugee crisis
Nisreen Osman began her work with UNHCR in Lebanon in 2012 when already thousands of Syrian fled their homes to seek refuge in one of Lebanon refugee camps, away from the bombing and the threat of terror.
Since 2011 UNHCR estimated that over 1.3 million Syrian — men, women and children — have arrived in Lebanon. Osman estimates that such figures are but the tip of the iceberg. “Many more Syrians have come to Lebanon … only they did not register with UNHCR. Syria has become a war zone and people are desperate to find refuge elsewhere,” she noted.
Shafaqna sat with Nisreen Osman to discuss the Syrian crisis and get an understanding of the situation.
SHAFAQNA – What is the situation on the ground? You have yourself witnessed the influx of refugees coming from Syria. What can you tell us?
An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since March 2011, taking refuge in neighboring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 3 million have fled to Syria’s immediate neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. Meanwhile, under 150,000 Syrians have declared asylum in the European Union, while member states have pledged to resettle a further 33,000 Syrians. The vast majority of these resettlement spots – 28,500 or 85% – are pledged by Germany.
Because of the sheer number of refugees we have been unable so far to cope and provide adequate care for all. We face an aggravated humanitarian crisis and as a results people have died. The realities of war have meant that children have been orphaned and families torn apart.
I witness personal tragedies on a daily basis and yet the world has failed to respond.
Let me tell you the story of Samira. Samira is a Syrian refugee. She arrived three days ago. She’s living in a self-made shelter with just one room, which she shares with 12 other people.
Because she is not Palestinian, Samira can’t register with the local Palestinian NGOs giving out much-needed blankets and heaters near where she’s living. She has made an appointment to register with UNHCR, but may have to wait up to three months to register and start receiving any aid. In the meantime, she has no food and barely any blankets, and is living in squalid conditions.
Samira’s home is made from one wall of breezeblocks and finished with plastic sheeting and cardboard boxes. The floor is wet and icy cold, outside snow melts into the ground creating icy mud.
Samira is amid tens of thousands desperate people.
SHAFAQNA – Do you feel that enough efforts have been exerted toward assisting refugees?
Not really! More could be done but aid is not coming, funds have not been made available …. It is ridiculous to think that 100s of millions of dollars are being spent every day to finance war while children here are going hungry and cold.
It is important for people to realize that Syrians need help, all of our help.
And though the UNHCR is doing what it can, we rely on charities and other organizations to feel gaps and step in toward helping people.
Syrians of all faith have been thrown in this war and they need our support.
Interestingly I have found that Syrians, despite their misery and sorrow have helped each other a great deal. Families have taken in orphaned children, and those with a little more have shared with those with nothing.
A Christian woman who lost both her husband and her son was rescued by a Shia Muslim family. She now lives with them and she has become the children’s grandmother … people have found comfort in helping others. It is actually heart-warming.
I wish the media could speak more of Syrians’ courage and incredible spirit of solidarity.