Putting money straight in the pockets of Syrian refugees may be the best way to help

The British Red Cross's disaster response manager reports on the challenges facing aid agencies in and around Syria

Share
Fact File
  • One fifth Proportion of refugees from Syria who live in official refugee camps
Related Topics

To most people, the mention of “Syrian refugees” conjures up an image of people living in tattered dwellings in some make-shift camp.

The reality is quite different. The situation for most Syrian refugees - and many other people affected by conflict across the world - has changed in recent times.

The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) reports that over 70 million people around the world – more than one in every 100 of the world’s citizens - are “‘forced migrants”’. They are displaced by violence, political upheaval and natural disasters; and according to the IFRC’s World Disaster Report, they are increasingly fleeing to towns and cities - not camps.

In fact, less than one fifth of Syrian refugees in Jordan are living in official refugee camps. Instead, it is not uncommon to find three or four families sharing one bedroom residence in northern cities, like Mafraq, and relying on their own dwindling resources.

The difficulties that face these refugees in urban areas in Jordan revolve around all too familiar practicalities. Top of the list is paying the rent, which refugees consistently identified to one of my British Red Cross colleagues as the overwhelming priority.

Some have stories of that famous middle-eastern hospitality, being welcomed after their harrowing cross-border journey. But perhaps more common is the cold reality of market economics; with high demand and a limited supply of affordable houses throughout Jordan's cities, prices for a place to stay are up by 50-100% from pre-crisis levels.

Refugees also identify sourcing enough fresh food, children’s schooling, medicine, and preparing for winter as their priorities.

Most fled the fighting carrying very few possessions; and many find it hugely discomforting and embarrassing to ask for the most of basic necessities like clothes, yet there are few alternatives.

So how can aid workers engage meaningfully with refugees dispersed in urban settings?

Agencies are increasingly concluding that the most effective way of addressing the needs of these refugees is to transfer a cash donation to them and let them use that to purchase whatever it is that they need. All the day to day necessities are generally available in the urban settings, at a price.

This approach is often met with scepticism. But as the Red Cross’ report notes, evidence of insecurity, corruption or inflation is rare: control mechanisms have worked and market prices haven’t risen significantly.

People who have few other resources at their disposal use the money wisely to meet a variety of their needs - and furthermore, they do so with some dignity as how they spend the money is their decision, not one handed to them from above.

For many humanitarian agencies however, a further obstacle is actually finding refugees, who may be dispersed throughout Jordan’s urban environments.

The Jordanian Red Crescent Society, a branch of the International Red Cross, appears to have bucked this trend.

The Syrian refugees coming over the border are familiar with the services of the Syrian Red Crescent back home, and many are actively seeking out the volunteers from the sister Red Crescent national society when they cross over into Jordan. The branches of the Jordanian Red Crescent find out who incoming Syrian refugees are through landlords, community leaders, and outreach work - and can quickly link up with them.

As winter approaches, the Jordanian Red Crescent and other aid agencies will be stepping up efforts to overcome the challenges in reaching the more hidden groups of people.

What is clear is that the nature and consequences of ‘forced migration’ are changing. Aid agencies and their donors must rethink their approaches in order to remain able to assist to the people they are trying to help.

Barry Armstrong is the British Red Cross's Disaster Response Manager

The British Red Cross is running an appeal for Syria and the region. To donate to the Syria Crisis Appeal go to redcross.org.uk/syriacrisis or call 0845 054 7206

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot