AMMAN, Jordan (BP) -- Conditions for civilians in Syria have deteriorated so badly that Southern Baptist humanitarian leaders have decided they must expand relief efforts inside the country.
At the same time, relief workers in neighboring countries have seen a "staggering escalation" of refugees streaming out of Syria -- and the international community is delivering only a fraction of the aid they promised when the crisis began nearly two years ago.
"After nearly two years of violence, over 4 million people are in need of assistance," said Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response. "The number of refugees from Syria is approaching 1 million, with 80 percent of those being women and children. IDPs (internally displaced persons) in Syria are now approaching 3 million."
The United Nations refugee agency said March 14 that more than 121,000 refugees registered in just one week, a jump of more than 10 percent. Just a week earlier, the U.N. announced the number of registered refugees had reached 1 million -- an average of 8,000 a day in February.
"This represents a staggering escalation," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said, according to news reports.
"Host fatigue" in surrounding countries where refugees have fled is combining with dwindling resources inside the country to fuel an alarming situation, Palmer added.
"In Syria, food is in short supply, as well as basic necessities, such as medicines and fuel," Palmer said. "A field partner recently made a trip into the affected areas and witnessed heartbreaking scenes of human suffering and darkness. In one area, a package of seven pieces of pita bread, a staple food, was selling for US $4. In another area, one liter of fuel was going for $10 -- the equivalent of about $40 per gallon."
While the bulk of Southern Baptist relief work with Syrians has been conducted in surrounding countries, now additional efforts will be added inside the country, Palmer said.
"We have had four project sites, with three being outside the country and one inside," he said. "Now, because of the deepening crisis in the country, we feel compelled to mobilize more resources through trusted partners inside Syria, while still supporting work in the refugee areas in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq."
During the past 18 months, Southern Baptists have expended nearly $300,000 in Syrian refugee relief, with most of that providing food, shelter and cold-weather needs. With the crisis intensifying, Palmer said he expects as much as $400,000 will be needed over the next few months, with $250,000 being directed toward relief efforts inside Syria. Those initiatives will focus on staple foods, medicine and hygiene supplies, shelter, heaters and oil, clothing, blankets, mattresses, carpets and opportunities to help families start micro-businesses.
Work inside Syria will be dangerous and BGR does not at this time project using many volunteers in the country. There is, however, "a growing potential" for volunteers working with Syrian refugees in Jordan, Palmer said.
Even with all the turmoil and suffering in the region, one positive note can be seen, Palmer added.
"In the midst of the crisis, we are seeing a widespread seeking of God. People without hope are turning to God for hope," Palmer said. "One businessman, who is now living in a hovel, told a BGR partner that he gave thanks for the crisis, because if it weren't for what was happening, he would have never thought about God."
Palmer urged people to pray for relief workers and partners helping with the response and, especially, for the Syrians who are suffering. "It is a very complex situation. No one knows who to trust," Palmer said. "They just know their families need help in these desperate times."
Mark Kelly writes for Baptist Global Response, online at www.gobgr.org
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