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Funding gap spells uncertainty for desperate Syrian refugees

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Funding gap spells uncertainty for desperate Syrian refugees

7 June 2017 Also available in:
Syrian refugee Fatmeh, 31, with four of her eight children in Amman, Jordan. Fatmeh’s family is dependent on vital cash assistance. © UNHCR/Benoit Almeras

SAHAB, Jordan – For the past five years as a refugee in Jordan, Fatmeh says she has had to make choices that no mother should ever face. Separated from her husband and forced to raise her eight children alone, her life has been a constant battle to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table and care for her seriously ill son.

“When we arrived I had no way of paying the rent, so I had to leave my kids alone while I went out to clean houses,” explains the 31-year-old from Aleppo. Still unable to cover all their costs, her two eldest sons – now aged 14 and 15 – sold socks on the streets in an attempt to make extra money.

Despite their efforts, Fatmeh was unable to keep up with the rent and they were evicted. Worse was to come when her son Loay, now aged two, was diagnosed with bladder cancer requiring costly treatment that she could ill afford.

After finding a cheaper apartment in the industrial town of Sahab, on the southeastern outskirts of the capital Amman, she finally received some good news last year when she was informed by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, that she would receive monthly cash assistance of 155 Jordanian dinars (US$220).


“The cash assistance is literally what’s keeping my son alive. Without it I don’t know how we could go on living.”


She mostly uses this cash to pay for her son’s radiotherapy, even if that means falling behind with her rent and getting into ever deeper debt. “The cash assistance is literally what’s keeping my son alive. Without it I don’t know how we could go on living,” she says.

Fatmeh’s family is among 30,000 Syrian refugee households in Jordan currently receiving monthly cash assistance, around a third of whom are solely dependent on the aid.

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But a worrying shortfall in funding for the agency’s Syria response, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon, means that this life-saving assistance could dry up by the end of June, affecting a total of 60,000 families in both countries.

The current funding gap for the Syria crisis in 2017 is more than US$1 billion, of which US$187 million is urgently needed to avoid the disruption of cash assistance and other vital aid in Jordan and Lebanon, UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic told a news briefing in Geneva.

“Despite generous pledges, humanitarian programmes in support of Syrian refugee and communities hosting them are quickly running out of resources,” Mahecic told reporters at the Palais des Nations.


“Additional contributions are urgently required to avoid dramatic and deep cuts ... to services.”


“Additional contributions are urgently required to avoid dramatic and deep cuts to both basic and life-saving services to Syrian refugees in the second half of the year,” he added.

Among those dependent on cash aid is Hasan, a 43-year-old father of eight from the suburbs of eastern Aleppo, has been a refugee in Jordan for the last three years. A degenerative eye condition has left him almost totally blind and unable to work, and the family relies on the 155 dinars they receive from UNHCR each month to cover the rent on their apartment.

Despite the help, the family still has to make tough choices in order to survive. Hasan can only afford to send two of his children to school, and the family eats meat only once a week and relies on clothes donations from local charities. However the current hardship is better than the alternative, he says.

“Before I had to borrow to pay rent, and I ran up debts of 2,500 dinars. Now I feel more secure because I know that at least we can pay the rent. If the cash assistance ended it would be a catastrophe. I would have to walk the streets with my kids, begging for money.”

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The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established on 14 December 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and coordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee issues. It strives to ensure that everyone has the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to voluntarily return home when conditions are conducive for return, integrate locally or resettle to a third country. UNHCR has twice won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954 for its ground-breaking work in helping the refugees of Europe, and in 1981 for its worldwide assistance to refugees.