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02 September 2013

Syria: behind the numbers

Sara Guy, media officer for Alliance member organisation Tearfund, on the situation in Syria…

For two years now the conflict in Syria has been appearing on our TV screens and newspapers. Last Thursday, when parliament was recalled for a vote on military intervention, the crisis seemed to move a lot closer to home.

In the space of just two weeks we have heard about 40,000 refugees fleeing into Iraq, seen shocking images of an alleged chemical weapons attack and faced the possibility of British military intervention.

When I visited Lebanon and Jordan earlier in the summer, during Ramadan, I met families who had fled from Syria. The love they had for their country and their sadness at its current state were clear to see.

Those leaving Syria usually arrive with what they have on their backs. Savings have been exhausted and women often have no option but to sell their jewellery to pay the rent (around three quarters of refugees don't live in official refugee camps).

Receiving 'charity' isn't easy. One woman broke down in tears as she told me that the mattresses and food they had were donated by her neighbours. She is grateful for their generosity but in Syria her husband was a builder with a regular income; they're not used to being dependent on others.

In another apartment block 13 family members across three generations live in two bare, concrete rooms. The family had been there just one week and although they were fasting, they insisted on welcoming us into their home with glasses of juice. In defiance of their situation they were utterly hospitable and generous.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), seven million people – that's a third of Syria's population – have left their homes because of the conflict. More than two million Syrians are now refugees and millions more have fled their homes but remain inside Syria in desperate need of help and support. Predictions are that these numbers will rise and rise.

Currently Tearfund is working with local partner organisations in Lebanon and Jordan to help families adjust to life as refugees; eventually we hope to help people return home. As well as helping with basic needs, like food and shelter, organisations are providing essential psychosocial support for children traumatised by what they've seen.

In Lebanon it was a privilege to see local churches reaching out with food parcels and friendship to the Syrian refugees in their community. As one of my colleagues commented: "We saw some wonderful examples of church being church."

We might feel helpless but there are things you and I can do. We can pray: pray for peace, justice and wisdom; pray for creative and constructive ways forward in this complex situation. You could also consider donating to Tearfund's Syria Crisis appeal.

My personal prayer is that world leaders remember that behind the numbers, the thousands of dead and suffering, are individuals; people who deserve to be treated with respect, dignity and value.

Tearfund has more information about the work they're doing and resources to help you pray at www.tearfund.org/syria.

Sara Guy, media officer, Tearfund.

Photocaption: After their home in Syria was hit by rockets, Aroosh (47) and her children and grandchildren are now living in two rooms of an apartment block in Jordan. Hannah Maule-ffinch / Tearfund