A family in Zamalka who returned to their home in Zamalka, East Ghouta, Syria, in 2019 after seven years in displacement

A family in Zamalka who returned to their home in Zamalka, East Ghouta, Syria, in 2019 after seven years in displacement. © UNHCR/Bassam Diab

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi reaffirmed the commitment of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to providing vital humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria and refugees in the country, following a three-day visit to the Syrian Arab Republic from 15-17 September.

“The situation in Syria continues to be very difficult and people need urgent support,” Grandi said. “I met people who have returned from displacement to areas still facing many challenges. Their resilience is humbling, but they have urgent humanitarian needs: food prices have skyrocketed, water is seldom available, electricity is scarce and work difficult to find.”

“The challenges they face have been compounded by a severe economic downturn and the coronavirus pandemic,” the High Commissioner added. “UNHCR is committed to continuing its work to provide humanitarian assistance to those most in need.”

UNHCR continues to ramp up measures to confront and contain the spread of COVID-19 among Syrian and refugee populations and is seeking to mobilize additional resources for the country’s pandemic and humanitarian response. The High Commissioner’s visit included meetings with senior government officials, NGOs, healthcare workers and Syrian families. His visit followed a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in the country.

“The most pressing need is to respond and do more to combat the virus, including expanding the support to quarantine centers, enhancing testing capability and providing protective equipment to frontline and healthcare workers at public and university hospitals and UNHCR-funded community centers,” Grandi said.

As part of its COVID-19 response, UNHCR has provided protective equipment to hospitals and health clinics, distributed medication to refugees and built quarantine areas in Rural Damascus.

The High Commissioner visited Dweir quarantine center where UNHCR and humanitarian actors have improved hygiene facilities, repaired patient rooms, provided equipment such as beds, mattresses and sheets and expanded capacity to accommodate up to 3,000 individuals.

Grandi also visited Eastern Ghouta in Rural Damascus. Urgent humanitarian needs persist there with limited access to potable water, scarce or unreliable electricity supplies, limited access to health care and soaring prices of basic necessities such as food, fuel and medicine.

He noted the severe damage to homes and buildings still prevalent since his last visit two years ago, but Syrian families that he spoke to told him the security situation was becoming more stable, and some internally displaced Syrians had returned to their homes.

The High Commissioner also visited a school in Eastern Ghouta that had recently reopened following the COVID-19 lockdowns. Lessons are taking place with up to 40 students per class, and he stressed how difficult it is to enforce physical distancing and ensure basic hygiene such as hand washing given the prevailing conditions.

The High Commissioner concluded his visit by meeting families that have recently returned to their homes after years in displacement. UNHCR has provided support to families in the area so they could make the small repairs necessary to render their homes safe and habitable.

Almost ten years into the Syria crisis, 11 million people inside the country are in need of humanitarian assistance and more than 80 per cent live below the poverty line. Economic turmoil compounded by the coronavirus crisis has only exacerbated the situation.

UNHCR and humanitarian partners are working to help the most vulnerable but fear that resources will become scarce as the global pandemic challenges the health, safety and economies of countries worldwide. This underscores the need for sustained international support for Syrians inside and outside the country, Grandi concluded.

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Originally published by UNHCR on 18 September 2020

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