The Jesuit Refugee Service, a Cordaid implementing partner in Syria, raises the alarm over the extreme escalation of violence in and around Damascus. To address more needs, Cordaid is about to step up its aid efforts.
Monday’s deadly attack on Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, is the latest in a row of violent escalations in and around the Syrian capital. Days before the attack, the Jesuit Refugee Service, one of Cordaid’s implementing partners, had already raised the alarm about the situation in Damascus: “This is the worst phase of violence since the outbreak of hostilities in March 2011.”
In addition to direct emergency aid such as distributing meals and repairing water supplies, we intend to train people, and provide building materials so that they can repair their own homes.
Marten Treffers, Cordaid shelter expert
Seeking shelter in basements
The recent escalation of violence in Eastern Ghouta, killing over 40 civilians, compounds an already precarious humanitarian situation. “Many residents have little choice but to take shelter in basements and bunkers with their children”, says Panos Moumtzis, UNOCHA’s regional humanitarian coordinator in Syria. Woefully inadequate humanitarian access is exacerbating the crisis.
We really do not know where and when the next bomb will fall.
Fr Nawras Sammour, regional director JRS MENA
Damascus and its outskirts, which are a patchwork of enclaves and territories held and attacked by either government forces, opposition forces or ISIS, have recently seen an increase of violence and brutalities by all parties. “This is widely regarded as the worst phase of violence since the outbreak of hostilities in March 2011”, says Fr Nawras Sammour, regional director of JRS MENA. “Like the people around us, staff from JRS Syria live in a cloud of uncertainty. We really do not know where and when the next bomb will fall”, he says.
‘Committed in our resolve to serve the people’
JRS Syria, Cordaid’s partner in the Aleppo field kitchen project, was forced to temporarily suspend some of its activities in Damascus. “Some of our project areas were hit by mortar shells”, says Fr Nawras. “The constant attacks also meant that some of our colleagues had to temporarily go back to their homes in safer areas”, he continues. “Many of the children we work with are still under shock having been witnesses to bloody attacks.  The grim reality has put an added responsibility on all JRS staff. We remain committed in our resolve to serve the people, fully aware of the risks this entails”, he concludes.
Stepping up aid operations in Syria
In Syria, Cordaid focuses on first and second line humanitarian responses to people affected by the conflict. Marten Treffers, shelter expert, will soon travel to Damascus and other places as part of a bigger Cordaid delegation, to see how we can step up aid operations.
Treffers: “I was there last December to asses needs and capacities, align with other agencies and see whether Cordaid can expand its team on the ground. This time we will define per location how to gain humanitarian access, what we are going to do and who we will work with. In broad lines, in addition to direct emergency aid such as distributing meals and repairing water supplies, we intend to train people, and provide building materials so that they can repair their own homes. We’re also going to see if and how we can make healthcare facilities operational again.”
Read the full JRS statement.
(Featured image: Damascus, January 2017. Badia Mehmid (35) has 9 children. They fled from ISIL controlled Aleppo, and sought refuge in Damascus. They live in a apartment without windows. © Caritas Internationalis / Patrick Nicholson)