As families are split by the latest escalation of fighting in Syria, aid agency CARE Australia is warning that women – some of them pregnant – are facing severe threats to their safety and wellbeing.
Close to 180,000 people have fled their homes, according to the United Nations, and women and girls are reporting psychological distress and a lack of medical care and essential items like warm clothing.
CARE’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Niravana Shawky, said, “Tens of thousands of civilians are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Many women in north-east Syria have been separated from their husbands, sons, or brothers and are escaping the fighting with nothing but the clothes on their backs and the children in their arms. They are especially vulnerable and in need of protection, psychosocial support and services that address their specific needs.”
CARE Australia is warning displaced women do not have access to medical assistance, as functioning healthcare facilities are overwhelmed with emergency cases. Pregnant women are at risk and unable to reach doctors or hospitals, with ambulances only available for births and other emergency cases.
With people sheltering in the corridors and rooms of public buildings, women and girls are also in need of privacy for their personal hygiene, dignity, and wellbeing. Most of them have to walk outside alone in the night to reach a toilet, posing a risk to their safety.
“We are visiting shelters hosting displaced people, including schools, and seeing many women who are unable to cope with the situation,” said Lamia*, an aid worker for CARE in northern Syria.
“They are under a lot of psychological stress and we are seeing increased depression and anxiety cases among women and girls. This is especially affecting young and pregnant women, many of whom have become displaced for the first time. The women I see cry whenever we meet. They tell me all they want is to go back home.”
Outside Syria, the situation is becoming increasingly dire in Iraq, as about a thousand refugees from Syria cross into the country on a daily basis. CARE is stepping up its humanitarian operations in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. A first priority will be the provision of safe drinking water, basic sanitary infrastructure, waste management, and hygiene support in a refugee camp near the border.
CARE’s Iraq Country Director Wendy Barron said, “Safe drinking water and securing toilets to ensure the dignity and safety for women and girls is an absolute must at the moment. Another very important need we have seen in the past is to find ways to provide safety and adequate support for women and girls in this vulnerable situation.”
In the past months, CARE has warned of the consequences of decreased humanitarian funding for Iraq. This call is now being re-emphasised by Ms Barron.
“The Kurdistan Region of Iraq already hosts nearly 230,000 refugees from Syria in addition to more than one million Iraqis who are displaced within their borders. Local host communities are stretched to their limits and the situation in many camps is very difficult. Aid agencies like CARE are concerned that funding will continue to decrease while needs are obviously on the rise.”
Donations can be made to CARE Australia’s Syrian Crisis Appeal.
For interviews with spokespeople in the region or in Australia, please contact Iona Salter on 0412 449 691.
- CARE is assisting vulnerable and displaced people in northeast Syria by providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene promotion. CARE is carrying out much-needed distributions of hygiene kits and winter clothes and providing psychosocial support, including psychological first aid to those immediately affected by the violence. CARE plans to reach 20,000 people in northeast Syria with life-saving and emergency assistance by the end of October.
- CARE has been providing aid in Syria since 2014, and has reached more than 4.5 million people so far. Our work is focused on food security, livelihoods, women’s economic empowerment, shelter, water and sanitation, maternal and reproductive health support, and psychosocial support for people in crisis.
- In Iraq, CARE is stepping up its efforts to respond to the needs of displaced people from Syria who fled recent violence in the north east of the country aiming to reach more than 600 households with water and sanitation facilities, hygiene kits as well as garbage collection services. Together with its partners CARE also plays a crucial role in camps for internally displaced people in Iraq keeping toilets, showers and washing facilities clean as well as providing medical supplies and nutritional supplements to pregnant and lactating women and their babies. As of June 2019, CARE has reached more than 340,000 people with humanitarian assistance.
* Name changed to protect identity