As clashes between the Free Syrian Army and Assad’s forces intensify in Aleppo, Damascus, and northern towns across Syria, the number of civilians displaced by the increasingly violent civil war continues to grow exponentially.
In March, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that the number of Syrian refugees would increase to 100,000 by the end of 2012. That figure was surpassed in July when fighting reached Damascus, sending 30,000 Syrians into Lebanon alone over a single weekend. Since then, Syrians fleeing violence to neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq exceeded 100,000 during the month of August, essentially doubling the previous number of internationally displaced persons.
Up to this point, UNHCR has registered 352,714 refugees in neighboring countries, but both the agency and these national governments acknowledge that this number is much lower than the actual population of Syrians seeking asylum abroad. The majority of those are women and children.
As MADRE has seen in other disaster and conflict response efforts, women are often the most vulnerable, as they are removed from their social support system and are overwhelmingly responsible for the well-being of children and elderly relatives. With new UNHCR projections for Syrian refugees reaching 700,000 people by the end of the year, a sustainable response, one that supports women and their families, is urgently needed.
The UNHCR camps, as well as the national governments, are striving to meet the growing need of those in camps, but there are gaps in vital services. Medical attention, particularly for the hundreds of pregnant women and young children vulnerable to illness, is severely limited. Additionally, according to Human Rights Watch, survivors of sexual violence are crossing into neighboring countries with greater frequency, but local women’s organizations that provide counseling and community are struggling to reach the ever-greater numbers of affected refugees.
To fill these gaps, MADRE strongly believes in partnering with and supporting local women who have a clear understanding of the resources and services needed to affect long-lasting change. We’re organizing a team of midwives from the region to bring emergency aid to Syrian refugee women. We will provide updates as that work progresses.