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As crisis in Syria drags into its fourth year, refugees long for home

By Coco McCabe
Um Majd hangs clothing on a line at Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where she has been living with her family for more than a year. She volunteers with Oxfam, ensuring that toilet and shower stalls installed in her section of the camp are maintained. Photo: F. Muath/Oxfam

From the small trailer that now shelters them in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, the choices are bleak for Um Majd and her four children: Stay where they are, trapped and depressed, or return to Syria where a conflict, now entering its fourth year, has ravaged the country and left more than 100,000 people dead.

Um Majd’s young son knows what he wants to do. Go home, despite danger and possible death.

She shakes her head in disbelief.

“My son here is almost seven and he told me he wants to go back to Syria because it would be better than staying here,” she said. “I replied that if we go there we would die. He said, that’s OK, but let’s just go home. Can you imagine that from a seven-year-old boy?”

There is no imaging the depths of hardship—physical and psychological—countless Syrians have endured the last three years as their homes were bombed, their schools destroyed, and their families torn apart. More than 2.5 million people have fled the country, putting severe pressure on neighboring nations. Lebanon alone is now hosting more than one million refugees, and recent fighting in Syria has led to a fresh influx of people seeking safety.

“Basic services in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan are stretched to the limit with schools and health clinics responding to meet dramatically increased needs,” said Andy Baker, who is heading Oxfam’s response to the emergency.

Recently, the UN launched its largest appeal ever—$6.5 billion—for humanitarian aid to help both refugees and those scrambling to survive inside the country. More than nine million people, or nearly half of Syria’s original population, are struggling within its borders and need assistance.

Oxfam has helped an estimated 900,000 people across Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Inside Syria, Oxfam has partnered with the Ministry of Water Resources and local water boards to deliver clean water to more than 500,000 people by installing four truck-sized generators to power two water treatment plants. Water and sanitation services are also a key component of Oxfam’s response in Jordan, where the organization is helping refugees both in Zataari camp and in many host communities. In Lebanon, Oxfam is distributing cash and vouchers to help families meet basic needs.

But what many families want more than anything is to be able to go home.

“It’s like a slow death here,” said Um Majd.

Oxfam is calling for a third round of peace talks to be convened in Geneva.

“Renewed efforts must urgently be made by the international community to help stop the bloodshed and bring an end to this devastating conflict which has destroyed so many lives,” said Baker. “It’s time for the next round of the Geneva peace talks to start—and for real and lasting progress to be made around the negotiating table this time.”

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