Syrian refugee crisis: How Canadian money is helping
'There's virtually no electricity … most of the homes have been destroyed,' UN official says
When Marie-Claude Bibeau climbed into the back of a tractor-trailer parked along Syria's border with Jordan, Canada's international development minister got an up-close look at how Canadian money is helping Syrians.
Bibeau watched as aid workers loaded a convoy of trucks with rice and other foodstuffs, along with blankets and warm clothes to keep Syrians warm during the cold winter months.
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When the trucks roll into the volatile southern districts of Syria Monday morning, the latest shipment of aid, partially paid for by Canadians, will be delivered to a small number of the 680,000 Syrians that United Nations says are in dire need of assistance.
"Canada is really doing its best to support these populations in need," Bibeau told CBC News, on her first trip to the Middle East since being sworn in back in November.
"We are working very hard to find the best way to contribute to the humanitarian assistance and also to work and to build on the resilience of the other countries, like in Jordan right now."
With Syria's civil war now approaching its sixth year, there are few signs that the conflict will end soon. Few are holding out hope that the latest round of international talks, which began in Geneva on Friday, will accomplish much.
CBC Forum on Canada's aid to Syria
"There is no comparison between poverty here in Canada and what these people are experiencing in Syria. They are starving to death." — a comment from Hazlett on the CBC Forum chat on Canada's aid to Syria. Read the full discussion here.
Instead, international aid groups are calling on the global community to dig deeper ahead of a major donor conference to raise money for Syrian aid, to be held in London on Thursday. Bibeau will represent Canada at that meeting.
Britain, which is co-hosting the event with Germany and Norway, says of the current international appeal of $8.4 billion, only $3.3 billion has been raised.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, Canada has committed $969 million in assistance, which includes humanitarian aid inside Syria and funding to the nations hosting Syrian refugees. Jordan has received $411 million of that.
Still, aid organizations with stretched budgets have already had to scale back some of their operations in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.
Greatest concern for refugees within Syria
Sarah Muscroft worries about the millions of Syrians who haven't been able to flee the conflict, and remain vulnerable or displaced within Syria.
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"There's virtually no electricity … kids are not in school. Most of the shelters have been destroyed, most of the homes have been destroyed," said Muscroft, who runs the Jordan office for the United Nations Office for Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The exodus of Syrians has placed considerable strain on communities in the countries bordering Syria. Jordanian officials worry about not having enough drinking water, after more than 630,000 Syrians have fled across the border. (Jordanian officials say the true number of Syrians in Jordan, many of whom have not registered with the UN, is closer to 1.4 million.)
Canada is helping the municipality of Irbid, Jordan's third largest city, about 20 km south of the Syrian border. The city's population has grown by about 25 per cent.
Canadian assistance has allowed the city to buy new vehicles for trash collection and to make sure the landfill can cope with the larger population.
"Canada is the country that has provided us with the most support," said Irbid's mayor Hussein Bani Hani. "That's helped us buy new equipment for our municipality and open new roads.
"Canada has really helped us."