‘Dire situation’: WFP cuts food vouchers for Syrian refugees

In interview after interview with Syrian refugees in Jordan in late October, I heard them express concern about cuts in the U.N. stipends that were helping them eke out an existence.

Today, citing a lack of funding, the World Food Program announced it was suspending food vouchers for more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees, a move its president called “disastrous for many already suffering families.” The agency says it needs $64 million just to support the refugees through the month of December.

The move prompted an outcry and appeals from groups working with the refugees, who noted that winter weather will make the situation worse.

A Syrian refugee girl sips a drink at a school in northern Jordan. (CNS/Barb Fraze)

A Syrian refugee girl sips a drink at a school in northern Jordan. (CNS/Barb Fraze)

“The food aid suspension could be particularly devastating in Lebanon, where more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees — one-quarter of the country’s entire population — are scattered across some 1,700 communities. There are no formal camps, and many of the refugees live in makeshift settlements, sheds, garages and unfinished buildings,” said a statement from the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

Ariane Rummery, a communications spokeswoman for UNHCR, explained that refugees living outside of camps in the region receive other types of vouchers from her agency, but they do not necessarily cover food.

In Jordan, for example, “emergency cash is available to those who are at risk of eviction, to the value of US$200, and can be accessed by a family twice. The monthly cash program currently supports about 90,000 refugees, and this remains their most critical form of income,” she told me. “A family of five receives US$130 per month to cover rent, although this leaves little left over for other needs. Rental costs in Jordan have increased dramatically due to demand, with two and three families often sharing apartments.”

Bill O’Keefe, Catholic Relief Services’ vice president for government relations and advocacy, urged “Congress now to provide adequate funding for the Syrian refugees, as well as for other crises around the world. ”

“The Syrian refugees’ situation is already dire, and resources are needed for education, livelihoods, health, and other needs; more funding is needed to avoid a full-scale humanitarian catastrophe,” he said, noting that “short-term legislation funding the government, including U.S. global disaster response, expires next week.”

Zerene Haddad, regional communications officer for Jesuit Refugee Service, noted that the suspension of the World Food Program vouchers came as a result of a lack of funding from their appeal. She told me that in Lebanon it would greatly affect “many Syrians who desperately need that food aid and rely on the WFP” or its partners. “Cutting them off will thereby increase pressure on other local NGOS and communities who are also providing food support. All in all, less to go around for everyone, more strain on already scarce resources and, considering that winter has arrived, it is a fairly dire situation.”

“As JRS we provide our own food support (that we procure locally in each country) to the people we serve, so we are not directly affected by this, and it doesn’t impact on our operations,” she said.

Catholic Near East Welfare Association is working with local churches to help offset the need for food, said Michael La Civita, communications director. The agency, which already funds various programs and supports parishes who are sheltering Syrian and Iraqi refugees, just received grants from three European donor agencies — including Misereor and Kindermissionswerk — totaling $347,924. “Much of this is for milk, nursing formula and other dietary needs of children,” he said.

How can you help? Here are some places where you can donate to help the Syrian refugees; these are not the only venues: World Food ProgramCatholic Relief ServicesCatholic Near East Welfare AssociationJesuit Refugee Service.

 

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