JAYRUD, Syria – Muhammed Thaer’s four children play outside in the late spring sunshine, after a winter spent alongside seven other displaced families in the unheated basement of a mosque in Jayrud, a farm town some 50 kilometers northeast of Damascus.
Muhammed, 45, escaped fighting near his hometown in rural Damascus in 2012 and moved his family to Jayrud, an agricultural area straddling the ancient merchant route between Syria’s capital and Palmyra, in search of safety.
But once there, however, they found themselves surrounded by combatants and unable to move. They have spent the last five years cut off from the world, living in the mosque and struggling to get by.
“We hadn’t received aid since June last year and we had nothing.”
Without work, Muhammed relies on assistance from aid organizations and the local host community to feed himself and his family. But until last week, when UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, together with other UN and NGO partners delivered food and other essentials to Jayrud and neighboring villages, he had gone without for months.
“We hadn’t received aid since June last year and we had nothing. There was no rice, bulgur wheat or oil to cook for our children,” Muhammed told visiting UNHCR staff. “Food prices are high, and there are no job opportunities for us to make ends meet.”
Now in its seventh year, the bloody civil war in Syria has driven more than 4.8 million to seek safety in neighboring countries. Meanwhile, some 6.3 million people like Muhammed and his family have become internally displaced by the conflict, which has left 13.5 million in need of humanitarian aid inside Syria.
The recent aid convoy consisted of 41 trucks loaded with food, medical supplies, household items and school books, which were distributed to 44,000 people living in Jayrud, as well as the villages of Atna and Nasrieyeh which previously had not received any humanitarian assistance since the start of the conflict.
During the operation, field teams from UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies met with local communities and organizations to assess the conditions inside the city.
“During this mission, we wanted to meet teachers, to assess the operating clinics and meet women and children, talk to them, and listen to their needs,” said Jolanda Van Dijk, a UNHCR field officer who visited the once flourishing town. “Most residents desperately need primary health care and livelihood support.”
“Most residents desperately need primary health care and livelihood support.”
They found that many of the displaced inside Jayrud are living in unfinished buildings or on farms. They face severe water and electricity shortages and a lack of employment opportunities to provide even a basic income.
While the recent assistance has provided a lifeline to Muhammed and other families in the area, he said only a lasting solution to the conflict would allow his children to reclaim what is left of their childhood.
“I hope that peace can flourish in my country again, and my kids can continue their lives like any other children in the world.”