Syrian refugees: dreaming of home

By Elizabeth Stevens
I felt so emotional when I saw the refugee children. They have nothing to do with this conflict. Sahar Ali. Photo: Anastasia Taylor-Lind/Oxfam

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April 2013

“People really appreciate Oxfam’s work in the Zaatari camp,” says Sahar Ali, an Oxfam humanitarian coordinator.

In February, Ali traveled from her home in Sudan to the camp in Jordan’s northern desert to help assess what’s going well and what Oxfam needs to improve in its response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

With thousands fleeing Syria every day, the flow of refugees is creating huge challenges to aid providers. In Jordan, more than 100,000 have made their way to Zaatari; fifty thousand people arrived in February alone. Oxfam is installing water taps and storage towers, latrines, showers, and laundry areas in the camp.

And it is making a difference. In the areas where Oxfam is working, Ali says, people are reporting that they like our sanitation facilities and can now access water easily.


“In Syria, many people had a good life before. Now, they are desperate.” – Sahar Ali


Lebanon is also receiving refugees in large numbers, but many of the new arrivals are dispersed throughout communities. There, as Ali reports, Oxfam’s discussions focused on our work to help families survive the winter months.

“People liked the materials we distributed to help them stay warm in winter,” she says, referring to the heaters, fuel, mattresses, warm clothes, plastic sheeting, and other materials that an Oxfam partner provided.

But there is a downside to handing out goods: although emergency distributions can help quickly meet the most urgent needs of a community as a whole, they rarely target individual household needs with precision. In one of the focus groups with refugees, a woman explained that she had received a clothing voucher, but she had no children to buy clothes for so she gave it away. Another woman gave away the diapers her family received.

“What’s really needed is cash,” says Ali, “so people can buy what they need most.”  One family might need food, another might need medicine, and another might be unable to afford shelter.

So, in both Lebanon and Jordan, Oxfam will soon begin providing cash payments to vulnerable families.

“People here really appreciate that Oxfam talks to them and tries to understand and address their needs,” says Ali.

Ali is no stranger to displacement. She has spent the last eight years helping manage Oxfam’s humanitarian programs in Darfur and, more recently, South Kordofan.   

“Displacement is a harsh experience—in Sudan or Syria,” she says. “You can see when you look in people’s eyes how painful it is. They have left behind simply everything.”

And, she says, “they are dreaming of home.”

Learn more about how Oxfam is helping Syrian refugees and donate now to support these efforts.