As temperatures drop, the needs of Syria’s refugees increase and the US resettlement program is still falling short.
The conflict in Syria has reportedly claimed more than 220,000 lives and has triggered a massive exodus of over four million people fleeing to neighboring countries and beyond. This summer, the Obama administration pledged to ramp up its response to the Syria crisis and said they would resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, which started on October 1. But, even as dangerous winter weather approaches and the needs increase, their first efforts were disappointing -- this October, the US resettled only 187 Syrians.
Oxfam is calling for 10 percent of Syrian refugees registered in neighboring countries to be resettled or offered humanitarian admission in wealthy countries by the end of 2016. Single women, women travelling alone with children, refugees in need of specialized medical care, and those facing persecution like journalists and human rights activists are considered to be especially vulnerable and prioritized for resettlement.
“The US has an incredibly rich history of offering refuge to people fleeing persecution and violence, a source of great pride to the American people. It is unfathomable that we would turn our backs now as people face their greatest hour of need. What we have here is a question of political will – there’s absolutely no question that the US can build a resettlement program for vulnerable Syrian refugees who cannot find safety elsewhere,” said Ray Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America. “As the temperatures drop this winter, we’ll continue to see conditions deteriorate for Syrians who lack adequate shelter or other basic necessities.”
Refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria will soon be facing winter weather without the proper supplies like heating oil, blankets or warm clothing – some have only flimsy tents as shelter. These lower temperatures can lead to more people getting sick, as families are forced to stay in close quarters, but many can’t access medical care in host countries’ overburdened health systems. The humanitarian response in general is critically underfunded and groups like the World Food Programme have had to scale back their food distributions.
Oxfam has reached nearly half a million refugees in Lebanon and Jordan with lifesaving essentials and helped an estimated one million people inside Syria get access to clean water. We are also providing winterization kits, toilets, showers, water points and other support to refugees from Syria and elsewhere in Italy and Serbia when they make the dangerous journey to Europe to find safety for their families.
Offenheiser added, “If we reach the 5th anniversary of this conflict without some sort of progress then we have done a great disservice to the Syrian people.”
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