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Vital cash grant gives winter relief to Iraqi refugees in Syria

News Stories, 16 December 2010

© UNHCR
An elderly Iraqi refugee receives cash assistance in Damascus as part of UNHCR's winterization handout.

DAMASCUS, Syria, December 16 (UNHCR) For the first time since it started helping Iraqi refugees in Syria, UNHCR has been handing out cash grants this month to tens of thousands of vulnerable Iraqis to help them endure the winter.

"For the past four years, Iraqi refugees have been crying out for help to keep their children warm during the tough winter months," said Ayman Gharaibeh, UNHCR's assistant representative in Syria. "It's a relief we finally have the means to provide this support."

The winter cash grant programme began in early December and is targeting more than 35,000 of the most vulnerable refugee families (125,000 people) in Damascus, Aleppo and other urban areas. Most are Iraqis, but small numbers of refugees from Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia will also receive the assistance.

Each family is given the equivalent of US$108, which is either sent by cheque or can be withdrawn from an ATM machine. The money will enable families to buy winter clothing, heating fuel and other goods to make life easier during the cold weather.

"This is important help; now I can pay for my daughters' winter clothes. I've found it so hard to cope during the last six years in Syria," said Marwan Hassan,* who fled from Baghdad with his family in 2004 to escape growing sectarian violence. He now lives in Aleppo, Syria's second biggest city.

Hassan is a trained scientist, but he says he has not been able to work since arriving in Syria due to a restricted job market. He has to rely on savings, which have been running out and that's why he needs help. Like many others, Hassan says he cannot go back to Iraq permanently under present conditions.

Soha* is another recipient of the winter cash grant. She also fled to Syria in 2004 after her husband had demanded a divorce and her younger son was shot in the leg while they were out shopping. The final straw came when her house was firebombed by unknown assailants, leaving Soha pinned in the rubble for hours.

At first, Soha struggled to support her three children with her savings, but today she is entirely reliant on UNHCR for financial and food assistance. "Although it will only be a one-time payment, it will still be a great help for me," she said of the grant. "I will be able to pay for fuel with it. Last year we had nothing to heat our house and we really suffered from the cold."

There are more than 140,000 Iraqi refugees registered with UNHCR in Syria.

* Names have been changed for protection reasons

By Roula Nasrallah in Damascus, Syria

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Refugees prepare for winter in Jordan's Za'atari camp

Life in Jordan's Za'atari refugee camp is hard. Scorching hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter, this flat, arid patch of land near the border with Syria was almost empty when the camp opened in July. Today, it hosts more than 31,000 Syrians who have fled the conflict in their country.

The journey to Jordan is perilous. Refugees cross the Syrian-Jordan border at night in temperatures that now hover close to freezing. Mothers try to keep their children quiet during the journey. It is a harrowing experience and not everyone makes it across.

In Za'atari, refugees are allocated a tent and given sleeping mats, blankets and food on arrival. But as winter approaches, UNHCR is working with partners to ensure that all refugees will be protected from the elements. This includes upgrading tents and moving the most vulnerable to prefabricated homes, now being installed.

Through the Norwegian Refugee Council, UNHCR has also distributed thousands of winter kits that include thermal liners, insulated ground pads and metal sheeting to build sheltered kitchen areas outside tents. Warmer clothes and more blankets will also be distributed where needed.

Refugees prepare for winter in Jordan's Za'atari camp

As Winter Approaches, Syrians in Jordan Prepare for the Cold

As winter approaches and Syria's raging war shows no signs of abating, Syrian civilians continue their desperate flight across borders to safety. Most have fled with nothing and some arrive barefoot in Jordan after walking for miles without shoes to reach the border in the increasingly cold and harsh conditions. Their arrival at UNHCR's Za'atri camp reception area often marks the first time they have been in a warm area without fear since the war began. In the dawn hours when most people arrive, they appear as exhausted bodies under blankets. And when they wake, you can see the agony of their ordeal etched on their faces. Throughout the refugee camp, a cottage clothing industry has arisen on every street corner. Throughout the region, UNHCR and its partners are moving quickly to distribute thermal blankets, extra food rations and clothing to ensure that the least vulnerable refugees are protected. The following photographs were taken by Greg Beals, working for UNHCR.

As Winter Approaches, Syrians in Jordan Prepare for the Cold

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

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