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Addressing growing needs as refugee crisis reaches ‘historic proportions’

Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, June 20, 2013

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  • It's estimated that there will be over three million Syrian refugees by year's end — over 75% of whom are women and children. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Earlier this month, the UN released its largest ever appeal to the global community for humanitarian aid: $5 billion to help the millions affected by the Syria conflict.

That's more than half of the UN's total funding requests for 16 other countries.

The news was a recognition of a deeply troubling crisis that is reaching a massive scale. Nearly 100,000 have been killed during the two years of fighting. Millions are displaced within Syria and 1.6 million have fled the country — over one million in the first five months of this year alone. Some days, as many as 8,000 people stream across the border into neighboring Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.

"The Syria crisis is a humanitarian disaster of historic proportions," said Jeremy Konyndyk, Mercy Corps' Director of Advocacy and Policy. "If current trends persist, we expect that over three million people will have fled Syria by year's end, exceeding the massive Rwadan refugee crisis of 1994."

We're working hard to provide desperately needed support for families now living in refugee camps and host communities: distributing clothes and other necessities to newly arrived refugees; increasing water access for the growing population; and helping children regain a sense of safety with protected spaces and activities.

But our teams in Jordan and Lebanon are also witnessing the crush of humanitarian needs firsthand.

They hear stories from mothers like Mariam, who fled Aleppo after her four-year-old daughter was burned in a bombing of the neighboring mosque. She no longer fears her teenage sons being conscripted into the Syrian army, but she worries about their future without access to education or work, while her younger children cannot escape their constant anxiety.

They talk to fathers like Nayef, who's oldest son was killed when a missile hit their home in Dara'a. His four children and extended family of five are now crowded into a a dilapidated two-room space with nothing but a few floor pads and blankets.

And they spend time with kids like Zeinab, who has traded having fun and going to school for carrying water long distances in a hot, dusty refugee camp and worrying is her father is still alive back in Syria.

These are three of the 500,000 Syrian refugees and host community members we're helping in Jordan and Lebanon. But the tide of new refugees is quickly overtaking the resources available.

The population in Lebanon, the region's smallest country, has grown by 25% in less than two years. Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp has become the equivalent of an entirely new city — the country's fifth largest — since just last summer.

"The international community must do more to ensure neighboring countries are adequately supported in return for keeping their borders open to Syrians fleeing the violence in their country," said Konyndyk.

While we work in the countries neighboring Syria, we're also actively engaged in advocacy efforts in Washington, DC to ensure international leaders support the needs of Syrian refugees and their hosts. That includes over 70 meetings with Congressional staff members, Ambassadors, and senior officials at the State Department, White House, USAID and UN.

We are vocal in pushing for necessary funding to address humanitarian needs — especially as sequestration cuts threaten to cripple the U.S. aid effort in the region — and we are amplifying our voice by joining together with colleague organizations to raise awareness about issues that require critical attention.

READ TODAY'S JOINT STATEMENT: On World Refugee Day, Congress must remember the needs of refugees

Most importantly, we are bringing the voice of the refugees we work with into the discussions that directly impact their lives. It's the individual stories of Mariam, Nayef, Zeinab and so many more Syrians that drive us to achieve government policies that will help millions in the midst of the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

How you can help

  • Follow the latest updates on Mercy Corps' response to the Syrian refugee crisis and share stories to raise awareness and support.

  • Donate today. You can make a difference for Syrian refugees. Your gift to our Syria Crisis Response will help us deliver clean water, distribute desperately-needed supplies and help children heal from the trauma of this crisis.