Syrian refugees need more than food, shelter |
Arab News - 24 August, 2012
Eid has not been a time of celebration for Syrians, especially for the 1.2 million who have deserted their homes but remain inside the country and the more than 170,000 who have fled across Syria's borders into Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon.
Indeed Eid has proved a time of great terror and anxiety. Behind them they leave a country being torn apart by state-sponsored violence, in which more than 20,000 people, many of them innocent civilians, have now perished.
The fortunate few have the money to take their families to hotels or fly out of the Middle East altogether, to stay with relatives elsewhere. For the majority however, life is suddenly bleak, surviving in rapidly-filling tented refugee camps during the height of summer.
Syria's neighbors, in particular Jordan and Turkey, have devoted considerable efforts to looking after the luckless refugees. However, from early on, it was clear that their resources would be severely stretched, as more and more Syrians crossed their borders seeking refuge.
Saudi Arabia has, from the start, been highly active in supporting the aid effort for Syrians who have taken flight. A second convoy of Saudi trucks bringing a wide range of aid has just reached the Zaatari and Hadeeka camps in Jordan. It was made up of 43 vehicles carrying 700 tons of food, medicine and water, the last of which continues to be in short supply in the summer heat. A separate consignment of Saudi aid, in the form of 3,000 special children's packages was also delivered this week to the Zaartari camp.
The Kingdom has further agreed to provide SR 28 million for the building of 2,500 temporary housing units in Jordan. Nor is Turkey being neglected. The Saudi National Fundraising Campaign for Syrians has announced it will work with the Turkish authorities to set up a new camp for Syrian refugees.
It cannot be doubted that this is only a fraction of the aid and support that well wishers in the Kingdom will be providing to the refugees. At the start of the month, the extraordinary fund-raising campaign begun by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, raised SR 440 million in aid through a ground-breaking telethon. Inspired by our example, other countries are now contributing toward the $ 400 million that the United Nations has estimated will be needed to sustain the refugees.
However, it should not be thought that money, food and shelter are all that these Syrians need. It is not simply the harsh summer heat with which they have to cope. There is also the boredom and feeling of helplessness. In Turkish camps for instance, occupants are only permitted to leave the secure area in which they are living, to go to nearby towns, for the most urgent of reasons, such as medical care that is not available within the camp itself.
Even though the perimeter fences are as much as anything for the protection of the camp inmates, who have brought with them whatever they have of value, for many of those living in them, it can feel like imprisonment.
The Turks and the Jordanians are doing their best to provide entertainment for their guests; the Turks have set up cinemas, games rooms and crêches, so parents can leave their young children in safety for a while and go and socialize around the camp.
However, the psychological stress to which the refugees are now being subjected, very possibly traumatized by gruesome events before they fled, and certainly full of anxiety for their friends, family and property back in Syria should not be overlooked in the effort to ensure that they are well-fed and looked after.
So great is the refugee problem becoming, that it might seem a Herculean task to provide counseling for the many who undoubtedly need it. There is, it is true, some strength that these unfortunate people can draw from each other, a reinforcing solidarity in their adversity. Friendships made in the camps may endure for many years to come.
Nevertheless, while Saudi Arabia joins with other countries, particularly with the Turks and Jordanians in caring for the physical needs of those who have fled the Syrian carnage, we should not forget that there is mental damage as well, especially among the children, who have seen horrors that no child should witness. Therefore it must be hoped that proper attention will also be given to the psychological support for these victims of the Assad regime's savagery.