According to the United Nations, earlier this month the number of Syrian conflict refugees topped two million, putting an enormous strain not only on the people affected but also the host countries which have absorbed the vast majority of Syrians fleeing their homeland.
Among the organizations providing assistance to the refugees – both to the internally displaced and those in other countries – is the non-profit International Relief and Development, based in Arlington, Virginia. VOA’s Susan Yackee spoke to Jeffrey Grieco, who heads the group’s government affairs and global communications efforts, about some of the numbers and logistics involved.
Below please find select excerpts of their conversation. For the full interview, check the audio player on the bottom of this post.
Grieco: …just to give you an idea of the scope of this crisis, which is growing daily – there are right now about 6.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. Of those 6.8 million, 4.2 million of them are displaced. Outside, however the numbers are growing rapidly as Syrians flee the country. We’ve got about close to two million Syrian refugees now in the neighboring countries. For example, Jordan has over half a million Syrian refugees now, primarily based in camps but also a large percentage moving into the cities so that they don’t go into a camp structure. In Lebanon, there are over 700,000 Syrian refugees who are almost entirely moving into villages and into city dwellings – sometimes with friends and family, sometimes not. In Turkey, there are over 400,000 refugees, a lot of them in camps. Iraq’s northern portion of the country, Iraqi Kurdistan, has opened a main bridge and now Syrian refugees are flooding into Iraq right now. That number is well over 200,000 refugees now flooding into Iraq. And that does not even take into account Egypt, which has a group of over 100,000 Syrian refugees. So you can see, the crisis itself is increasing the pressures on the whole region, the countries around Syria as they are now tasked with taking care of – with a lot of support from the international community – of a lot of the Syrian refugees as they flood into those countries.
For a country like Jordan this is very serious because it has a very small Jordanian population; it has a large population of Palestinian refugees and Iraqi refugees as a result of the Iraq conflict. And now they’re flooding in on the Syrian side, so that is creating problems in neighborhoods and communities as you’re stressing this very sensitive balance of humanitarian support…
Yackee: Specifically, what are you providing for these refugees and the countries they are going to?
Grieco: We do a whole host of different activities in those countries; a lot of the activities are with regard to the life support system: providing them with access to water and sanitation systems. In addition, we’re providing them with communal kitchens in camps. The largest camp in Jordan, for instance, has close to 400,000 refugees in it, and that number is growing daily. And that camp has communal kitchens, so we’re providing all of the propane fuel, all of the hygiene training to mothers and to families on how to keep themselves well when they’re in a massive camp structure like this. We’re providing health support; we’re helping them with accessing heat so when the weather changes in the desert area, they’re able to heat their tents.
We’re doing a lot in terms of supplying the Jordanian public schools with extra curriculums and literature because now the public school system is taking these refugees in large numbers – and they weren’t built for that.
We are working to establish community advisory committees, where we can bring together various refugees and their leaders to try to help them to solve problems so that the crisis does not put such a strain on the communities [so] that [they] don’t start fighting amongst themselves.
And we do a lot of “quick hit” projects for the refugees – setting up a soccer field and providing the proper equipment for youth in the camp so that they’re busy doing sports or in school rather than causing other problems for themselves or their families….
Listen to our full interview with Jeffrey Grieco:
Susan Yackee is anchor of VOA's International Edition radio show. She has been a reporter in the Washington area for more than 35 years and regularly interviews newsmakers and analysts in DC and around the world. Susan works in television, radio and social media.