Despite his poor health, Ahmed Ata Jichi waits patiently in line to receive the quarterly distribution of food and cash assistance by the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO). Today is a good day for him. He will be able to take back food for his family. "My children are most excited about the milk," he says, "It is as if I travelled abroad and brought back presents for them." In reality, Jichi only walks a short distance to the distribution centre. Originally from the village of Safad Faradeh, he now lives with his wife and eight children in Homs refugee camp. As a patient of epilepsy, it is extremely difficult for him to find a stable source of income. Consequently, his family must borrow money and rely on the assistance provided by donors such as the European Union.
Under ECHO's food assistance programme, each family member receives US$10 in cash assistance along with one and a half kilograms of lentils, three kilograms of sugar, three kilograms of rice, three cans of tuna fish, three bottles of sunflower oil, and two kilograms of milk. The cash subsidy attempts to give vulnerable families the flexibility to make purchases according to their needs, to enable beneficiaries to purchase fresh foods, and to support local suppliers.
Baheyeh Hassun, originally from Haifa, lives in the Homs Camp with her four children. As a single unemployed mother, she finds life extremely difficult. "The ration is everything for my family. I am really grateful for it, but I hope the amount and frequency of the rations will be increased," she says. The rations last about a month and then, like Jichi, Hassun must look for other sources to feed her children. Most of the time, she is forced to borrow money. Every three months, she hopes that the donors will increase the rations. However, a few commodities on which she relied in the past have now been discontinued. Hassun recalls, "There used to be flour and tomato paste. I really miss the flour."
Samir Ghannam expresses similar views: "They used to give us flour, butter, and tomatoes. Flour is very important. We can't buy it from the market because it is really expensive." Ghannam, an unemployed man who lives in Bab Hud, is originally from Teireh, a village in Haifa. He uses the cash assistance to pay rent for the little apartment that his wife and four children occupy. With tears in his eyes, Ghannam talks about the difficulty of finding jobs and providing for his family: "I am helpless. I rely on the assistance provided by different donors. Though I am thankful to all the donor countries, I hope they will help us more. We suffer every day."
With the sharp increase in food prices, general rise in the cost of living, high unemployment, and falling incomes, most refugees find themselves in steadily deteriorating living conditions and increasing debt. Consequently, a number of refugees use the cash assistance to pay back debts instead of spending it on other food items. Meat and fruits are a rarity, and many struggle simply to obtain staples. They rely heavily on ECHO's quarterly assistance, but given the poverty that most of these refugees live in, a lot more aid is required to make life bearable, if not better.
Text and photos by Meher Makda
UNRWA and ECHO
Since 1992, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) has funded relief to millions of victims of both natural disasters and man-made crises outside the EU. Aid is channeled impartially, straight to victims, regardless of their race, religion and political beliefs. For the past 18 years, ECHO has supported UNRWA through a variety of programmes.
To find out more about ECHO, visit their website.