UNRWA cash assistance crucial to mitigate Palestine Refugee hardship in Syria

19 April 2024
An UNRWA staff member provides cash assistance to a Palestine Refugee in Syria. © 2024 UNRWA Photo

“My family and I get so excited when I receive an SMS message on my mobile [phone] with information on distribution times and locations of UNRWA cash assistance. We feel it is God’s blessing as we face countless hurdles, and we are in the grip of poverty. Living is difficult beyond imagination. We’ve been in a crisis for over 12 years,” said ‘Aref al-Soudi, a Palestine Refugee from Qabr Essit camp in Rif Damascus.

Like thousands of Syrians and Palestine Refugees, the prolonged conflict has scarred ‘Aref. “The conflict in Syria set off a humanitarian crisis,” ‘Aref said. He recalls the sounds of rockets and bombs flying over his home when tensions escalated in the camp. A father of six, ‘Aref used to work as an Assistant Store Keeper at the Directorate of Education in Damascus, before he retired in 2019.

For Palestine Refugees like ‘Aref, uncertainty and worry over the future have become constant, life itself has become more difficult, as critical goods get increasingly expensive. The conflict continues to cause suffering and the humanitarian needs of Palestine Refugee families keep growing amid the protracted conflict. This is compounded by worsening socio-economic conditions, with many struggling to make ends meet. The recent spike in the price of food and commodities deepens the hardship of Palestine Refugees who rely on UNRWA for humanitarian assistance. With a smile tinged with sadness, ‘Aref said: “UNRWA aid came on time, as life has become unbearable in light of the skyrocketing prices.”

Describing the impact of the conflict on all aspects of his life, ‘Aref said: “Like Syrians, the conflict has taken its toll on Palestine Refugees. My pension can barely meet my family’s basic needs. We live on one meal a day and we struggle to keep up. In the past, we used to have three meals. Now we are eating less. We crave meat and chicken. We have forgotten the taste of meat. The price of vegetables, sugar, rice and cooking oil have sharply risen. Basically, I buy the cheapest things available and I always bargain. Life is hard and we struggle to survive,” he explained.

Like many Palestine Refugees in Qabr Essit camp, ‘Aref and his family depend on buying potable water from mobile water tanks every day, which cost around SYP 90,000 – about US$ 10 – a month. “We are always faced with daunting challenges and buying water adds a burden to our daily expenditures. My monthly pension is not enough to cover the needs of my family, so I always borrow and I am caught up in the vicious circle of debt. The situation is becoming more difficult by the day and we manage our needs day by day. I tried to find new work, but it is difficult as I am above the age of 60. It is cold and winter brings new hardship for us because we can’t afford to buy heating fuel to run the stove. We face freezing weather particularly at night. The Agency should consider providing us with warm blankets that we can wrap ourselves with,” ‘Aref noted.

Expressing his thanks to UNRWA for providing him with cash assistance, ‘Aref said: “We thank UNRWA for this great help in times of need which provides a lot of support. Although it might not meet all our needs, we will always remember and value this assistance. We appeal to you to provide this cash assistance monthly rather than quarterly.”

Cash assistance is one of the pillars of UNRWA emergency interventions to respond to the growing humanitarian needs of 419,615 Palestine Refugees in Syria and contributes to secure their basic needs. It also gives them the flexibility and dignity to prioritize their own living costs amid worsening socio-economic conditions. This past year, due to the decrease in funding, for the first time since the conflict started, it was only possible to distribute 10 months of cash assistance instead of the usual 12.

Supporting the most vulnerable Palestine Refugees is made possible with the help of the European Union (EU), a longstanding partner of UNRWA. The EU has contributed a total of EUR 5.5 million – or US$ 5.86 million – to UNRWA since 2023 in support of the Agency’s cash assistance emergency response in Syria.