Migration & Refugees, TerraViva United Nations

Starting Over at Home

Regardless of their age, Syrians often discover that being internally displaced means starting over with just their memories and determination to someday return.

Over 6 million Syrians are internally displaced. Photo: ©IOM

Mar 5 2018 (IOM) - After armed groups broke into his home in the middle of the night, 20-year-old Ahmed and his wife knew that they had to flee as soon as possible. They left their hometown in Homs Governorate and eventually reached a camp for displaced persons after a 1,000 kilometres trek. His wife was pregnant at the time.

The young couple welcomed their first child soon after arriving at the camp. But their shelter was not suitable for a baby and they struggled. Ahmed searched desperately for any job to support his family, but did not find any regular work for months.

Having left a good job behind, Ahmed had hoped to pick up where he had left off and decided that he needed retraining. He turned to vocational sessions provided by IOM, the UN Migration Agency, under a livelihood project, which also equipped him with a working table, a generator and a set of aluminum welding tools. Ahmed is now looking forward to supporting his family by opening his own shop.

“I am relieved,” Ahmed said. “I will open my own shop and start my career to earn money to support my family and live in dignity.”

IOM is in the process this year of providing similar early recovery and livelihood assistance to thousands of internally displaced Syrians. This includes, besides vocational training, in-kind grants and short-term employment. Livelihood programmes allow internally displaced people to improve their resilience and meet their own needs by generating an income.

Over 100,000 Syrians in Syria, Turkey and Jordan are targeted to receive early recovery and livelihood assistance in 2018. Photo: ©IOM

Like Ahmed and his wife, the Alqtar family saw the threat of violence as being too much for them to withstand. Proud farmers, the seven family members reluctantly said goodbye to their home in rural Hama and left for a camp for internally displaced persons.

The first few years were extremely tough, with the parents and their five girls — Had, Nour, Eman, Al Yamama and Heba — not able to purchase a new tent. All seven had to live in an old tin shelter where they faced a year-round battle with the scorching sun of the summer and coldness of the winter.

An IOM partner was able to conduct a needs assessment last year, and the Alqatr family received a new tent, which today is providing them with some relative comfort.

“This tent is our house and we must keep it arranged nicely,” said 10-year-old Heba, the eldest Alqatr child. “I help my mother to keep it comfortable and clean so our cousins and friends have a nice place to visit.”

Seven years into the war and one of the biggest ongoing humanitarian crises in the world, one out of every three Syrians (6.1 million) is internally displaced. This includes 750,000 Syrians living in what is known as “last resort” sites, such as informal settlements, transit centres and schools. They are deemed to be among the most in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, and face a daily struggle to address their immediate needs.

An internally displaced Syrian transporting the humanitarian assistance that he received on his motorcycle. Photo: ©IOM

For 50-year-old Hatem, starting over again meant leaving behind an entire career and life. At first, Hatem and his family had to share a small tent with 14 members of his extended family without any privacy or proper shelter from the weather.

“I used to be a business owner. Now I’m a displaced person. Before, I used to supervise many workers, now I wait in line for humanitarian assistance,” said Hatem. “Fifty years of my life’s work is now gone”.

Set on making the most of his situation, Hatem took any job he could find and eventually moved his family into a small two-room shelter. Hatem’s dream nonetheless remains to return home and to his business.

Hatem received some assistance from an IOM implementing partner to better furnish his new home. Photo: ©IOM

Some 850,000 internally displaced Syrians returned to their homes in 2017, as well as 560,000 the previous year. Aleppo, the most populous Syrian Governorate, witnessed the highest number of returnees, with an estimated 455,000 individuals returning in the first nine months of 2017.

These returns have been mainly spontaneous but not necessarily voluntary, safe or sustainable. Approximately 25 per cent of returnees state the need to protect their home and assets as their reason for return. The improvement of the security situation was noted by only 20 per cent of the returnees.

These concerns meant that many families returned to areas not suited to welcoming them back. Around half the returnees report a lack of access to household items, and a challenging access to clean water and food. Two thirds cited difficulties accessing health care.

Thousands of vulnerable internally displaced Syrians will receive help to improve their shelters in 2018. Photo: ©IOM

Despite the slight increase in returns from 2016 to 2017, 2.9 million Syrians were displaced last year, which is more than three times the number of returnees.

New displacements were most frequent in North-east Syria (Ar-Raqqa and Deir Ez-Zor governorates) as a result of anti-ISIL military offensives. An estimated 484,000 displacements reported between November 2016 and the end of September 2017.

In 2018, IOM is targeting over 1,000,000 internally displaced Syrians with urgent humanitarian assistance. This is part of IOM’s 2018 USD 194 million appeal for Syria and the five neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

This story was posted by Kamyar Kompani, Media & Communication Division, IOM HQ.

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