Following a massive South African effort to raise funds for war-afflicted Syria, Operation SA has joined the Al Imdaad Foundation on a tour of the Turkish/Syrian border to gain a first-hand account of the scale of the humanitarian crisis. The visit to Reyhanli, home to 120 000 refugees, comes after millions of rands was raised by the South African public, in response to the urgent needs of Syrians fleeing the violent skirmishes in Aleppo recently.
“It’s cold, wet and raining…the conditions are unbearable,” Yusuf Abramjee from Operation SA told VOC News.
“We are told there are 1 million orphans on the Syrian border. In Reyhanli, some children brave the cold and rain begging for food. It breaks ones heart. Its only now that I can fully understood the mass scale of the suffering.”
Over the next three days, Operation SA and Al Imdaad Foundation will be visiting refugee camps and orphanages on the border.
“On Tuesday, we head to the region where the recent refugees from Aleppo have arrived and we will conduct distributions there Insha-Allah. We will visit the existing projects of the Al Imdaad Foundation as well as IHH and other NGOs working on the border,” said Qari Ziyaad Patel from Al Imdaad Foundation.
The IHH, which has some 650 employees, runs a massive humanitarian programme in this region.
“I counted some 100 trucks loaded with aid for the refugees (with food, blankets, mattresses etc) ready to go to the various camps. The regional IHH headquarters is massive and it very well organized and professional,” said Abramjee.
The Al-Imdaad Foundation is the main Southern African partner of the IHH. Qari Ziyaad Patel and his team are regular visitors to the region to oversee the humanitarian programmes.
According to the IHH, there are some 3-million Syrian refugees on the border with Turkey. About 1-million refugees are children and only 50% go to school. In Reyhanli alone, there are 1500 orphans, aged 1 to 12, with another 30 000 orphans along the border area.
There are 250 refugees in Reyhanli who are paralyzed, many of them children. They were either shot while others were injured by bombs.
The socio-economic impact of the war is frightening as some women refugees are prostituting themselves to support their children.
To alleviate the food shortage, the IHH runs 40 bakeries in which 2 million loaves of bread are distributed to refugees daily. But the refugees are in dire need of shelter.
“The IHH says ‘block houses’ are needed urgently. This costs about R120 000 each. It is in Syria 5km from Turkish border. Thousands of these houses are needed for refugees,” said Abramjee.
The Tiny Hearts Village, which will be the biggest orphanage in the world, will be opened on the border soon.
Right now, the urgent needs are warm clothing, blankets, baby food, nappies and medicines to assist refugees who fled Aleppo.
Aleppo is 50km from the border, while Idlib is about 10km across the border. There are also several refugee camps in this area served by IHH. The Al-Imdaad has also channeled funds raised by itself and #OperationSA to various IHH programmes.
“The next few days are going to be tough as we see the scale of suffering. We have been warned that what we are about to see if heart-breaking and distressing. Volunteers who have been here from across the world leave traumatized and the images continue to haunt them,” said Abramjee.
#OperationSA has received several requests from people back home who want to come and volunteer with humanitarian efforts. He said they also received scores of enquiries about people who want to adopt orphans.
“Experts here say this is not an option for now because taking children out of this environment can be detrimental and there are a number of legal issues as well,” Abramjee added.
The IHH has urged South Africans to work with local NGO’s in their countries to ensure aid arrives swiftly. Cash donations is the quickest way to get the aid where it is needed most.
To donate towards Syria, SMS 072 3 99 99 99 or go to www.operationsa.org. VOC