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Suleiman Saikali, Omar Abawi and George Akel (left to right) check the content of food boxes that will be distributed to Syrian refugees by Caritas Jordan in Mafraq. (MCC Photo/Daryl Byler)

Suleiman Saikali, Omar Abawi and George Akel (left to right) check the content of food boxes that will be distributed to Syrian refugees by Caritas Jordan in Mafraq. (MCC Photo/Daryl Byler)

MCC responds in Middle East with kits, food, grassroots peacebuilding

Gladys Terichow
March 7, 2012


WINNIPEG, Man. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is supporting the efforts of local organizations in Syria and Jordan that are helping people affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria.

As the violence in Syria continues, many people who have been injured, displaced or are grieving the loss of family members are seeking support for food, medicine and other basic needs.

“MCC is in a unique position to respond to the humanitarian needs in the region due to our long history and strong relationships in the Middle East,” said Bruce Guenther, director of MCC disaster response.

MCC is appealing for $500,000 and relief kits to assist partner organizations in the Middle East as they provide humanitarian aid and build peace at the community level.

A significant part of MCC’s response will help partners in Lebanon expand efforts that strengthen conflict prevention efforts and disaster preparedness. This includes media training, encouraging dialogue among young leaders, trauma training and more.

In Syria, MCC is providing approximately $100,500 to help a local organization provide food baskets to 500 families for six months and small monthly cash allotments for daily bread and to pay for medical costs, utilities and other basic needs. Because of safety concerns, the organization MCC is working with in Syria cannot be named.

“Families receiving this assistance in Syria have fled the city of Homs and are staying in rural areas,” said Guenther. “Many have left everything behind—their belongings, homes and livelihoods—to escape to safety. Many have been injured.”

Some reports estimate that 70,000 to 80,000 Syrians had fled to Jordan by late February, 2012. Some of these families are receiving support from Caritas Jordan, an MCC partner agency that has set up distribution operations in Mafraq and Ramtha, two cities near the Jordanian-Syrian border.

In early March, MCC is sending two shipping containers of 5,830 school kits, 6,900 hygiene kits, 7,350 blankets and 1229 relief kits to Jordan where supplies will be distributed by Caritas. MCC is also providing Caritas with financial assistance for local purchases of milk powder and diapers.

“Families have been traumatized by the violence they have witnessed,” said Daryl Byler, an MCC representative based in Jordan who talked with several families during a recent visit to the Caritas distribution operations in Mafraq.

“There is this incredible sense of vulnerability that refugees face. We are talking about people who have left their homes and don’t know what to expect in a foreign country or if and when they eventually return home. Many families have four to eight young children.”

Caritas has significant experience working with refugees and the host communities through its work with supporting families from Iraq. As in the past, Caritas is also assisting vulnerable families in the host community.

One of the women receiving support, who identified herself only as Salwa, said she along with her husband and four children fled the city of Homs six weeks ago after two neighbours were killed and her husband’s grocery store was taken over by Syrian security forces. They fled to Jordan with the clothes they were wearing.

“Whenever her children hear fireworks (often part of local wedding celebrations) they fear that the violence has followed them from Homs to Jordan,” said Byler. “Her husband has not been able to find work in Mafraq. She described her family’s most urgent needs as security, milk and mattresses.”

This family has managed to find rental accommodations in Jordan but housing is becoming a problem as more refugees continue to arrive, said Byler. Families registered with official refugee agencies have access to education and health services. However, many families fear reprisal when they return to Syria and have chosen not to register with official refugee agencies.

Salwa and her family, along with many other families who have fled to Jordan, have not sold their home and anticipate returning to Syria.

“I asked Salwa what message she would want to share with people in the West,” said Byler. “Her swift reply was, ‘Please do not forget the Syrian people.’”

MCC has been working in the Middle East for more than 60 years and currently supports peace and development work in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Palestine and Israel.

Donations are welcome and should be marked Middle East Crisis. For more information about assembling relief kits please call your nearest MCC office or visit mcc.org/kits/relief.

Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ