Syrian refugees in desperate need of help, aid groups say

A coalition of aid organizations launched a new fundraising campaign today, appealing to Canadians who want to help Syrian refugees but don't know who to trust with their donations.

Humanitarian Coalition launches campaign to scale up Canadian assistance

Syrian children eat outside their tent at Atmeh refugee camp in northern Syria in February, 2013. Canadian aid agencies today launched a new appeal for donations to help more than 1.4 million refugees. Hussein Malla/Associated Press. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

A group of major Canadian aid organizations is launching a new fundraising appeal aimed at Canadians who want to help Syrian refugees but who feel "paralyzed" and unsure about how to give.

The Humanitarian Coalition told a press conference on Parliament Hill Tuesday that at least 6.8 million people are in need of immediate assistance in Syria and in the surrounding countries where they have fled. Three million children are among those in need and more than 1.4 million are living in refugee camps. Every day, thousands more leave their homes in Syria in search of safety.

"There are a lot of numbers but it's important for us to remember that these are people," said Nicholas Moyer, head of the coalition that includes Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Quebec, Care Canada, Plan Canada and Save the Children.

The groups are working on the ground in Syria and in the refugee camps in Jordan and elsewhere and want to ramp up their assistance. The risk of disease spreading in the camps increases as the weather gets warmer, representatives of the groups noted. A lack of food, clean water and hygiene are ongoing concerns in the camps.

A young girl stands outside a tent in a refugee camp in Lebanon on February 11, 2013. (Mohammed Zaatari/Associated Press)

"The needs outstrip the resources," said Moyer.

Robert Fox, head of Oxfam Canada, said things are getting so desperate he has heard of families marrying off their young daughters to older men as a survival strategy.

The Syrian community in Canada has been working hard to support those in need but resources are getting exhausted, he said.

Refugee crisis expected to grow over summer

"We've also seen that many Canadians have almost been paralyzed in their responses. They've been watching this political and conflict situation arise, in part because they don't know who to trust, they don't know what's going on, they don't know how to help," said Fox.

The new appeal for funds launched today is a campaign that Canadians can get behind he said. The coalition is collecting donations through its website, by phone and by mail.

"This assures them that there are trusted organizations that are on the ground both in Syria and in surrounding countries who have experience, who they can put their confidence in that the money they provide will get to the people who need it," he said.

The group said Canadians have always been generous and pointed to the outpouring of funds following the Haiti earthquake in 2010. The Syria crisis involves twice as many people in need than Haiti and the needs are only getting greater, according to the coalition.

"This crisis is not showing any signs of abating and showing all signs of continuing and actually getting much worse over the course of the summer," said Kevin McCort, head of Care Canada.

The groups have provided cash assistance to families, health and social services, water and sanitation, food distribution, and education programs.

"We urgently need funds to continue this work ... we must help the millions of Syrian refugees who need help now," said McCort.