Oxfam and 22,000 Australians call on Government to increase humanitarian aid as registered Syrian refugees reach 3 million

Emergencies, Media Releases, News article written on the 29 Aug 2014

Australia should step up its efforts to assist refugees and others facing the horrors of war in Syria, Oxfam said today as the number of Syrian refugees registered with UNHCR reached 3 million.

The UNHCR announced the sombre milestone – a figure equal to three quarters of the population of Melbourne – from Geneva today, highlighting the severity of the worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan Genocide two decades ago.

Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Helen Szoke said urgent action was needed to respond to the growing regional crisis caused by the intensifying conflict and increasing displacement.

“The fact that 3 million Syrians are now refugees is just part of the picture of human suffering,” Dr Szoke said.

“With 10.8 million more people needing help inside Syria and indiscriminate attacks on civilians claiming more lives each week, more and more families will be forced to seek sanctuary.

“The UN managed appeal for the humanitarian response to this crisis is still woefully underfunded, with only 40 percent of the money it needs. Facing significant funding shortfalls, humanitarian agencies have already had to cut programmes and target their assistance, leaving refugees to go without”.

In Jordan, Oxfam has had to halt cash payments that were helping 6,500 refugees in host communities meet their basic needs such as food and shelter.  In June 2014, the UN was forced to reduce its fundraising targets for refugees by AU$500 million due to a lack of available funds from donors. Inside Syria only 30 percent of the funding needs have been met.

In Zataari refugee camp in Jordan, the settlement of thousands of Syrian refugees in a very water-scarce area is putting huge pressure on available water resources. Refugees are having to make do with just over 35 litres of water each day for essential drinking and cleaning, and with soaring summer temperatures, the threat of health risks looms large as Oxfam and other humanitarian agencies battle to meet basic needs.

“The refugees we work with are desperate to return to rebuild their lives in Syria, but while a political solution to the crisis remains elusive, there is sadly no way that they can. Though neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have been very generous in helping refugees to date, as predominantly poor host communities absorb more and more refugees, they are being stretched to breaking point,” Dr Szoke said.

Over 22,000 Australians have signed an Oxfam petition calling on the Government to give its fair share of funding to the humanitarian appeal for Syria, which Oxfam calculates would be at least an additional $70 million now based on the scale of needs and the size of Australia’s economy.

“We have had an overwhelming response to our Syria Crisis Petition, with over 22,000 Australians calling on the Government to give an additional $70 million to the people of Syria. That call is even louder today as we see the situation reaching a new low”.

An additional $70 million would bring Australia’s total humanitarian funding contribution to Syria to $100 million this year, which is well within the Government’s existing aid program budget.

Oxfam is calling on the public to add their voice to the petition at www.oxfam.org.au

Since the beginning of the year, Oxfam has reached nearly half a million refugees in Jordan and Lebanon with clean drinking water, cash and relief items, and supplied water to over a million people inside Syria.

For interviews or more information, please contact Angus Hohenboken on 0428 367 318 or angush@oxfam.org.au