Archive for the ‘Syria’ Category

Donating to UNHCR and UNRWA

Posted: September 3, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Syria, UNHCR, UNRWA

Amid the onging human devastation of the Syrian civil war and a growing regional and international refugee crisis, this is probably as good a time as ever to remind readers how they can help.

Click the images below to donate to UNHCR or UNRWA..

UNHCR appeal

UNRWA donate

UNRWA appeal for Yarmouk

Posted: April 20, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Syria, UNRWA


The following comes via UNRWA USA:

Horrifying images of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus have been in the news recently after various armed groups moved in and hostilities in the camp dramatically intensified putting the lives of thousands of civilians – among them UNRWA registered refugees – at serious risk.

During the fighting in which 3,500 children were caught up, I led a humanitarian mission to Damascus and while there UNRWA expanded its assistance to Yarmouk’s residents who fled the fighting and were temporarily displaced to adjacent neighbourhoods.

I want to tell you more about our humanitarian work with these traumatised and displaced communities in a moment. But first I’d like to introduce two small children who I met on my Damascus mission in a temporary shelter in a suburb called Yalda.

Jihad Ya’qoub, the youngest Palestinian refugee to flee Yarmouk, was born on March 30. His mother, Said Fatima, never imagined bringing a child into this world could be so tough.

Mohammad was born in Yarmouk on January 25 of this year. When armed groups moved in, his mother, Nadia, fled in search of safety. Her only thoughts were to save the life of her newborn son

Like the wider Syrian conflict, Yarmouk has a human face; the faces of young Mohammad and Jihad. I introduce you to them in the hope that you, too, will understand why I am firmly convinced that turning away is not an option — and why the international community – all of us – must act in a concerted manner to respond to the many tragedies in Syria.

UNRWA, with its special responsibilities towards Palestine refugees has played its role and I say with pride that the response of our team in Damascus was immediate and courageous. Though we have been unable to get into Yarmouk itself since 28 March, we went to the areas adjacent to the zone of hostilities and negotiated access with local political and religious authorities. And so we were able to expand our emergency response to include assistance to some 3,000 civilians who’d just escaped Yarmouk to nearby areas.

Each day our teams have provided 1,000 families with food parcels, containing a 10-day supply of food for a family of five. Also 1,200 bags of bread and other humanitarian items were provided. Our medical staff established a mobile health point, treating 254 patients over the course of the day, our doctors identified 10 cases of hepatitis A, as a result of contaminated water supplies in the area. In addition to food and medicine, we are supplying water purification treatments, mattresses, blankets, family kitchen sets and hygiene kits.

We are providing assistance not just to Palestinian and Syrian families temporarily displaced from Yarmouk but also to host communities in the neighbourhoods of YaldaBabila and Beit Saham.

And this is why I write. I firmly believe that you, as an individual can and should get involved. You can make a difference. We can all make a difference. So please take time to follow this link and give. Every cent counts. Even the smallest donation can make a real difference in the lives of people like Jihad and Mohammad.

  • $29 feeds one refugee for one month;
  • $70 provides mattresses, blankets and kitchen sets for a displaced family of 5;
  • $200 provides access to life saving health care to 40 refugees; and
  • $1,200 provides clean drinking water to 150 refugees.

On behalf of them, on behalf of all the refugees we serve in Syria I thank you.


Pierre Krähenbühl
Commissioner General
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

Yarmouk updates

Posted: April 12, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Syria, UNRWA


UNRWA issued its latest situation report on Yarmouk, Syria yesterday:

UNRWA Situation Report Yarmouk

11 April 2015

UNRWA is deeply concerned that lack of humanitarian access to the civilians inside Yarmouk, and those displaced to the south east of Yarmouk, is putting 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian men, women and children at grave risks. Civilians from Yarmouk remain unable to meet their most basic needs of food, water and healthcare, and continue to be exposed to unacceptable levels of violence.

Situation report 11 April 2015

  • The intensity of violence has decreased over the past two days in Yarmouk. Up to 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian civilians, including 3,500 children, inside and outside of Yarmouk continue to be affected by unimaginable levels of violence and deprivation.
  • UNRWA and its partners stand ready to resume humanitarian assistance to civilians inside Yarmouk and to those displaced from Yarmouk as a result of the ongoing armed violence.
  • UNRWA has provided immediate and life-saving humanitarian assistance to up to 100 civilians from Yarmouk who remain displaced in Tadamon. In addition to the food, mattresses and blankets distributed on April 4th, the Agency distributed hygiene kits and baby kits to support displaced families.
  • An UNRWA health team visited the civilians on April 8th and provided direct assistance to 31 people, mostly suffering from chronic diseases.
  • UNRWA is working quickly with all partners to assess the situation of the displaced civilians to the south east of Yarmouk, in Yalda, Babela and Beit Sahm and respond to their most pressing needs.
  • UNRWA demands all parties to respect, and comply with, their obligations to protect civilians. UNRWA further demands the establishment of secure conditions under which the Agency can deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance.

UNRWA preparedness

  • UNRWA mobilized its emergency response team on April 1st to develop a range of response scenarios, including large displacements to areas where UNRWA does not currently have access.
  • UNRWA works closely with partners and UN Agencies to mobilize resources for a large-scale humanitarian response to support the civilians of Yarmouk.
  • UNRWA has prepositioned stocks of food, mattresses, blankets, and hygiene kits to respond to the most urgent needs as soon as access is granted.

Call for support

  • As violence continues to affect the lives and safety of Palestine refugees throughout Syria, UNRWA appeals for donors to increase their support to the Agency’s Emergency Appeal.
  • The capacity of the Agency to sustain life-saving emergency interventions, whilst responding immediately to urgent developments such as the one impacting Yarmouk since April 1st, is gravely undermined by chronic underfunding for humanitarian interventions inside Syria.
  • More than 95% of Palestine refugees now rely on UNRWA to meet their daily needs of food, water and healthcare.
  • Priorities interventions include cash assistance which enables UNRWA to access up to 470,000 Palestine refugees in need, including up to 39,500 of them currently living in hard to reach areas. This intervention will run out of funding after the distribution of second round of cash assistance in June.
  • Additional funding is also required for critical non-food items including blankets, mattresses and hygiene kits for all displaced Palestine refugee families throughout Syria.

At the same time, UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl undertook an urgent mission to Syria:

The visit is prompted by UNRWA’s deepening concerns for the safety and protection of some 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian civilians, including 3,500 children, as Yarmouk remains under the control of armed groups, and as civilian lives continue to be threatened by the effects of the armed conflict in the area.

The objectives of the Commissioner-General’s visit are:

  • a. to obtain a closer view of the evolving situation in Yarmouk and to learn from the experiences of individuals affected by the crisis;
  • b. to consult with the Government of Syria on its perspectives, and to exchange views on  peaceful approaches to addressing the humanitarian consequences of the situation in Yarmouk;
  • c. to consult with the Deputy UN Special Envoy  on approaches to non-state actors in order to secure humanitarian access to civilians.
  • d. to consult with the Deputy Special Envoy and other UN colleagues on the UN’s role with particular reference to feasible humanitarian action to support civilians in Yarmouk under all circumstances
  • e. to recognize and give encouragement to UNRWA staff and colleagues from other UN Agencies in Syria.

To achieve these objectives, the Commissioner-General will meet with relevant senior Syrian officials, UN colleagues and UNRWA staff. He will also visit the displaced people presently accommodated in a government school building in Tadamoun.


UNRWA has issued a useful infographic and update on the situation of Palestinian refugees in Syria:

In February 2015, Yarmouk and its surrounding areas continue to experience high levels of armed violence, which prevented distribution of humanitarian assistance by UNRWA. The Agency has not been able to complete a successful distribution since 6 December 2014. In addition, UNRWA has been unable to operate its temporary health point or provide residents with clean water and basic non-food items. The Agency continues to advocate for full, safe and uninterrupted access to Yarmouk and other areas that remain hard to reach or fully inaccessible. On 9 February, the Agency was able to visit Husseiniyeh for the first time in over 18 months. The visit constitutes an important first step in restoring UNRWA services, rehabilitating UNRWA facilities and in making the area habitable for returning civilians.

You’ll find the original pdf here.

Winter storms hit Palestinian refugee camps

Posted: January 12, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, UNRWA, West Bank

It’s been a cold winter for Palestinian refugees in Syria, Gaza, and elsewhere. Read more about the current situation at the UNRWA website.

UNRWA updates, 11 July 2014

Posted: July 11, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Gaza, Syria, UNRWA

UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness has been very active tweeting updates on the current crises in both Gaza and Syria. Here are a few of his tweets from today.

You can follow him here.

UNRWA has released a video highlighting the reasons for poverty among Palestinian refugees. It cites as the primary causes 1) high unemployment (due to labour restrictions in Lebanon, and the effects of israeli occupation in the West Bank); 2) Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and 3) the Syrian civil war.

Canada and UNRWA

Posted: June 19, 2014 by Rex Brynen in Syria, UNRWA


At a time when many Palestinian refugees are facing increasing growing humanitarian crisis—most severely in Syria, but also in Lebanon and Gaza too—Canada’s lack of support for UNRWA is increasingly problematic. In an excellent op ed in the Toronto Star yesterday, Humera Jabir outlines a powerful argument why the Harper government should renew Canadian financial support for the Agency’s efforts:


Canada must renew support for Palestinian refugees

If the Harper government wants to be taken seriously as a foreign policy leader, it cannot continue to ignore the Palestinian refugee crisis that is shaping Middle East politics.

18 June 2014

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the Middle East in January he signalled Canada’s interest in showing greater leadership in the region. But if the Harper government wants to be taken seriously as a foreign policy leader, it cannot continue to ignore the Palestinian refugee crisis that is shaping the region’s politics.

Today, numbering in the millions and spread across the Middle East, Palestinian refugees, who fled what is now Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and ensuing conflicts, are central to Middle East politics and the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The worsening humanitarian conditions they face, now exacerbated by the conflict in Syria, further endanger the region’s stability.

And yet Canada, once a lead donor to Palestinian refugees, has turned its back on the population — a decision at odds with Canada’s foreign policy ostensibly concerned with the region’s security.

In 2007, Canada gave $32.4 million to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency(UNRWA), the organization mandated by the international community since 1950 to work for Palestinian refugees. The money was to help fund health care and education programs, as well as emergency food and job assistance to refugees most in need. This dropped to $20.5 million in 2009 and $15 million in 2012. Canada gave nothing in 2013, and there is no sign it will donate this year.

This amounts to an abdication of the very leadership role Harper claimed to want for Canada.

The flow of Palestinian refugees across borders has long been a source of tension in a region of messy sectarian divides, limited resources and sporadic violence. Today, more than 60 per cent of Palestinian refugees in Syria are displaced. Thousands have fled to Lebanon and Jordan, neighbouring countries already hosting sizeable Palestinian refugee populations and reluctant to accept more. Palestinian refugees from Syria have been blocked at borders or forcibly returned to war-ravaged Syria.

Moreover, Palestinian refugees who escape to Lebanon join a community that is already marginalized, deprived of political and economic rights and trapped in refugee camps the International Crisis Group describes as “a time bomb.” Without increased international support for the great numbers of Palestinian refugees arriving in Lebanon today, existing conditions will only worsen.

The decision to withdraw support to Palestinian refugees is also at odds with Canada’s international aid objectives, food security in particular. The violence in Syria has spared none, but with fewer options and resources Palestinian refugees are especially vulnerable.

In February, alarming photos of Palestinian refugees facing starvation in Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus made headlines. After a seven-month siege by Syrian forces, thousands of Palestinian refugees crowded the camp’s streets to collect food aid. There were reports of some eating leaves and animal feed to survive, leading the UN to call Yarmouk a crisis “unprecedented in living memory.”

Canada has pledged to aid Syrian refugees through other international partners. But by not funding UNRWA it is decidedly ignoring the needs of the Palestinian refugee population in Syria and discriminating between Syrian and Palestinian victims who suffer the same violence and upheaval.

It was widely reported that Canada’s 2009 decision to defund UNRWA was due to allegations that donor funds were being redirected to terrorist groups. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) itself disproved this, with a report finding “minimal” risk of funds being redirected and UNRWA to be strong in its financial management. CIDA documents from 2010 showed that even the United States and Israel lobbied Canada to renew its funding to Palestinian refugees.

Britain, the European Union and the U.S., recognizing the critical importance of stabilizing the stateless Palestinian population, continue to donate to UNRWA and at higher levels to fill mounting shortfalls. Canada is the black sheep. Its decision to withdraw support was noticed internationally, and according to some commentators, a factor in why Canada lost its 2010 bid for a Security Council seat.

This year, UNRWA faces a shortfall of $22 million in emergency aid to Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, threatening the provision of food aid to a population where 57 per cent are food insecure by 2012 figures. Cuts in food distribution, layoffs and service reductions by UNRWA in Gaza have already led to waves of protests by refugees brought to their knees by the Israeli blockade imposed since 2007.

At a time of turmoil and greater desperation, ignoring the Palestinian refugee crisis is a fatal flaw in Canada’s Middle East policy. If Canada wants to be taken seriously as a leader, it must renew its support to the millions of Palestinian refugees whose plight will shape the region’s future.

Humera Jabir is a law student at McGill University in Montreal.


UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations have joined in a social media campaign to raise awareness of conditions in Syria and to demand “immediate, secure, substantial and permanent humanitarian access for all civilians” there:

On the third anniversary of Syria’s pitiless conflict, we demand immediate, secure, substantial and permanent humanitarian access for all civilians, including countless children, in Syria. In the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, the parties had shown they could come together in ways that facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations.  We urge all parties on the ground to listen to the voice of the international community as expressed unanimously through the Security Council and to act now to halt the march of death, injury, hunger and suffering. We say to our leaders: don’t let the people in Syria, children and families, lose another year to bloodshed and suffering, violating the most fundamental laws of war. We must stand #WithSyria. We say as one: #LetUsThrough.

This Thunderclap campaign aims to generate at least 23 million tweets, the pre-war population of Syria, with the #LetUsThrough hashtag. Once we have achieved that, our Thunderclap image will appear on the electronic billboard in New York’s Times Square, not far from United Nations Headquarters, sending a powerful message to the global diplomatic community that we demand they unite and “LetUsThrough.” We will then photograph the image on the Times Square billboard and tweet it out to the millions who followed us in the campaign.

Click here to learn more about UNRWA’s effort to help Palestine refugees from Syria
Read more on the crisis in Yarmouk Camp

Palestinians Refugees in Syria BannerRegistration information here.