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07 March 2014

Syria’s civil war – three years too many

Syria’s civil war – three years too many

"Pray with us that there is no fourth anniversary of this war, says Alliance member Tearfund, as this month marks three years since the conflict in Syria began.

During the three years of fighting, thousands of Syrians have sought safety outside their country, mainly in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Latest figures from the UNHCR show there are 9.5 million people in need within Syria and 2.5 million refugees. So far the conflict has claimed more than 100,000 lives, including 11,000 children.

It has also had a profound effect on children's education. According to a UNICEF report published in December 2013 almost two-thirds of the school-age population have been forced to quit their schools as fighting destroyed classrooms, left children too terrified to go to school, or forced families to flee the country. The collapse in education in Syria is on an unprecedented scale: a country which enjoyed pre-civil war primary school enrolment rates of 97 per cent is now witnessing the "sharpest and most rapid decline in the history of the region".

"Thousands of Syrian children are being forced into work to support their families," says Jeremy Moodey, CEO of Embrace the Middle East. "Children as young as five are working for tobacco farmers, sewing leaves for about 40 pence an hour. They are part of Syria's lost generation, forced to abandon their education inside Syria because of the country's catastrophic civil war."

Tearfund's disaster response manager, Justine Nola, calls for a holistic response to needs in Syria: "When I meet Syrian refugees it's clear that they don't just need physical help, like food and shelter. They're traumatised by what they've been through and need support to keep themselves and their families healthy and functioning well.

"As aid agencies we're doing everything we can but until there is peace, this situation is going to spiral and keep getting worse. The pressure on neighbouring countries is just enormous. It's not just a crisis for Syria but for the whole region."

Tearfund is working through local organisations and churches in Lebanon and Jordan to help Syrian refugees with their basic needs, like food, keeping clean and having somewhere to live, as well as psychosocial support.

Ghadar* is a 37-year old mum of six. She came to Jordan from Daraa, Syria, with her children and husband eleven months ago. Ghadar attended a course for Syrian women run by one of Tearfund's partner organisations.  The sessions helped her to deal with her grief and anger, and gave her strategies to help with her family relationships.

She says: "When I came to Jordan, I was under a lot of stress and my children never saw me smile. That caused a lot of problems. Attending the sessions, I started learning something new. I started smiling and treating my children in a different way. That helped a lot. I had lost hope of being a good mother. But after the sessions, things got better. I told my sisters and all the ladies around me to go and attend the sessions immediately".

 Abu* (77) registers new Syrian refugees for psychological courses and food aid at a local church. For many women the help that the sessions offer is more important than food; some ask to be registered for the course only, not food parcels. Talking about the impact of the sessions, Abu says: "Food is just for the moment but this stays with them and helps them with their lives now and in the future."

Justine says: "Working alongside our partners we hear story after story of suffering. But what amazes me is the resilient spirit of the Syrian people and their enduring hope that they will go home one day. Please pray with us that this day comes soon".

Prayer resources, including written prayers from Tearfund's partner organisations, and further information on Tearfund's response to the Syria crisis

*Names have been changed to protect identities.