EDINBURGH-BASED charity Mercy Corps is urging a “decisive push for peace” in Syria as it launches a new appeal to expand its operations in Europe to help refugees who have fled the conflict.
Prime Minister David Cameron visited a school in the village of Zaatari in Jordan, close to the Syrian border, where Mercy Corps has been working to help make life better for refugees and local people.
The charity said Mr Cameron’s visit was a chance to help the Prime Minister understand the plight of refugees and host communities whose lives have been interrupted by years of conflict in Syria.
Speaking from Jordan, Ali MacLeod, Mercy Corps’ fundraising director, said with no sign of an early peace in Syria’s civil war, many of the refugees faced prolonged stays at places like Zaatari.
She said: “While short-term humanitarian aid is vital, so is looking at ways of helping people to build their lives in the new context in which they find themselves.
“Zaatari’s population has doubled, water resources are very scarce, there are not enough school places – and all that creates tensions.”
Ms MacLeod said: “The Prime Minister was visiting here to get an understanding of the situation both in the camps and the countries surrounding them before he heads to the UN General Assembly at the end of this month and the World Humanitarian Summit after that.
“Mercy Corps’ community partnership approach seeks to bring refugee and host communities together to develop a common understanding, identify common needs and find solutions. We have worked with communities and community leaders in Zaatari for over two years.
“During Mr Cameron’s visit, Mercy Corps team members urged him to respond to the European refugee emergency with urgency and make a decisive push for peace in Syria.”
Ms MacLeod spoke to the Evening News from nearby Azraq refugee camp, purpose-built by the UN and other agencies after the population of the Zaatari camp soared to become the fourth largest city in Jordan and the second biggest refugee camp in the world.
Azraq’s 20,000 residents live in portable cabin-style caravans rather than tents, but there is no electricity and conditions are hard.
“Most people here fled with little more than the clothes on their backs,” she said.
“I’ve just been speaking to two 15-year-old boys who have been here just over a year. They spoke about barrel bomb attacks and being scared whenever their parents left the house. They just wanted to get out.
“Some of our work here is humanitarian aid, but the majority is building community partnerships like the one the PM visited – infrastructure projects to provide water for both refugees and the local Jordanian population, education facilities for both Syrians and Jordainians, and economic development.”
But she said most refugees in the camps wanted to stay near Syria and hoped eventually to return home.
Meanwhile, over the next few weeks, Mercy Corps will be expanding its operations to help refugees in Europe.
It has launched an emergency appeal to help fund the work, building on its presence among Syrian refugee communities in Turkey, expanding activities on the Greek island of Lesbos and sending emergency responders to the Balkans.
Ms MacLeod said: “In Greece, we are establishing ourselves in Kos and Lesbos, looking at the best way to assist people arriving there and working with other agencies so there is a co-ordinated and effective response.
“We’re also ramping up the programme we have in Turkey, which is a point of departure for many people, warning people them of the risks they are taking.
“And in the Balkans we’re looking at the routes people are taking and what is the most useful thing we could do there. We are so well supported by the Edinburgh and Scottish public, we implore them to keep supporting us.”