Tuesday 02 October 2012
ShelterBox's position in SyriaA man carries his daughter as he walks in Bab Al-Salam refugee camp in Azaz August 29, 2012. Photograph taken by Reuters/Youssef Boudlal, courtesy the Thomson Reuters Foundation – AlertNet.
What started out as a peaceful protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the southern Province of Deraa in March 2011 has degenerated into a regional interethnic civil war.
The growing violence, sectarian tensions and economic hardship has forced more and more Syrian families to flee not only their homes with around 1.2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs); but also their country with over 294,000 refugees in neighbouring countries, according to the latest report from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
With the escalating conflict now also hindering aid agencies going into Syria, how can ShelterBox distribute aid and help people in need?
With the restricted access to Syria, we have explored other avenues through the surrounding nations of Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, but each has its challenges and limitations.
There are ShelterBoxes prepositioned with the Jordanian Red Crescent in the capital Ammam, which were originally going to be used to set up transit camps along the border to accommodate the influx of Syrian families into Jordan. Existing transit camps have been criticised by the international community for inadequate standards resulting in the Jordanian Government becoming wary of setting up future transit camps.
'The Jordanian Red Crescent is working on alternative solutions with the Government of Jordan to set up a transit camp,' said ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Tom Lay.
'Currently the security situation in Syria does not allow for a safe return by families and there is every chance they will become displaced again and even victimised for having received international assistance.
'Therefore we will use the relationships between the Jordanian and Syrian Red Crescent societies, the latter being granted the most humanitarian access in Syria of any humanitarian organisations, to distribute our boxes on our behalf to families attempting to return to their homes in Syria once the situation allows for this.'
Safety of ShelterBox Response Teams (SRTs) and the practicalities of logistics are constraints for ShelterBox in the Arab region.
How does ShelterBox carry out need and site assessments as well as transport aid in such a restricted region?
The Turkish Government is retaining complete control of the assistance to refugees crossing their border, but has issued a list of materials that they require in order to meet the needs, distributing it to the humanitarian community in Turkey, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
'IOM's Chief of Mission has asked us if we would be willing to explore options in partnership with them including winterised tents, kitchen sets, blankets and stoves,' said Operations Coordinator Fionn Mckee. 'It is very much a concept stage and there are no guarantees the Turkish Authorities will accept aid under any conditions but is a good possible avenue for the future.'
ShelterBox is looking to develop partnerships with civil society organisations (CSO) based in Western Iraq in order to establish, and where appropriate, support this region’s emergency shelter needs, particularly as winter draws closer.
A key strength of ShelterBox is its flexibility to operate alongside the giant UN agencies as well as small community based organisations. Separate from the politics, our approach lets us find and address the needs of communities across countries and territories through a neutral and impartial engagement strategy based on humanitarian principles. In this way, we sometimes make the impossible, possible.
Fear of registration
In Lebanon, the on-going fear of destabilisation of the country and continuing fear towards registration amongst the Syrian families is meaning the estimated refugee population is far lower than the reality.
An SRT travelled to Lebanon in August to explore a response with various agencies and contacts including the Lebanese Ministry for Social Affairs. However, due to negativity towards camps, there currently is no position for ShelterBox working with the Government at this time.
ShelterBox is seeking alternative avenues however it must balance its response across the religious sects and understand the potential consequences of not doing so.
'We have to stay neutral and not be seen to be taking sides in Lebanon to deliver aid' said ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Alice Jefferson.
'We are currently liaising with a number of organisations including Handicap International who have teams on the ground reporting that hard shelter is being prioritised by the humanitarian community.'
ShelterBox follows humanitarian organisational principles that are beneficiary-led; with these numerous issues and restrictions in the region it seems that currently food, medicine and protection are immediate priorities.
However, with the ending of the harvest's income for renting or home improvement, impending freezing conditions with winter fast-approaching, guaranteed influx to a saturated real estate market and lack of other international nongovernmental organisations' shelter provision, the need for shelter will become more and more important.