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Each family is given the equivalent of US$108, which is either sent by cheque or can be withdrawn from an ATM machine.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