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Syria Humanitarian Fund: Critical cash distribution for over 49,000 Palestine refugees displaced in Syria

16 Jul 2019


OCHA’s Hedinn Halldorsson documents the impact of cash assistance on Palestine refugees living in south-west and central Syria, made possible by the Syria Humanitarian Fund.

Sitting on a bench, three generations of women are waiting for their turn at the teller in an UNRWA office in Damascus - Mona, the grandmother, her daughter Ala, and Ala’s six-year old daughter, Asma. “The reason why we’re here is Asma, she’s my only child and I want to be able to take care of her needs”, Ala tells me with pride. “It’s Ramadan and we want to buy her some new clothes for Eid”.

The family lives in Husseiniyeh, a Damascus neighborhood in a three-bedroom flat. “It’s the 15 of us; seven children and eight grown-ups.” It‘s Mona, the grandmother, who speaks for the three of them. They used to live in a different area of the city, but were forced to leave because of the crisis.

The family is among more than 49,000 Palestine refugees in 17 locations in south-west and central Syria who are currently getting financial assistance from the Syria Humanitarian Fund through UNRWA. To make that possible, 51 distribution points have been set up, and two commercial banks and a money transfer company have been partnered. The goal is to bring much needed humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups, in particular, women, children and elderly people – people like Mona, Ala and Asma.

When it's their turn at the teller, Asma clings on to her mother Ala while she collects the grant.

"Our financial situation is tough“, Mona tells me. "My husband has a heart condition and I have diabetes and high blood pressure. The medicine for my husband and me has priority. All other needs have to come second. But it‘s Eid, and Asma is a child. I am trying my best to let her be just a child“.

Out of the dozens of people in the waiting room, only a handful of parents and caretakers have brought their children. When their number gets announced and Ala stands up to collect the grant, Asma clings on to her. She’s a shy six-year old. Only when the conversation touches on schooling, she engages with me. “I’m the first in my class,” she admits with a smile.

A Palestinian mother and her son wait in line in the UNRWA compound in Damascus. The mandate of the Syria Humanitarian Fund is to meet needs of vulnerable people impacted by the protracted crisis in Syria, now in its 9th year.

A 2017 vulnerability assessment by UNRWA, carried out in distribution centers like the one Mona, her daughter and granddaughter have come to today, found that 90 per cent of Palestine refugee households was living in absolute poverty, with just 2 USD per person per day. However, after receiving the SHF financial support, the numbers fell from 90 per cent to 74 per cent.

"We have relied on this support for six years, since 2013“, Ala says. Her mother, Mona, tells me how grateful she is as this is the family‘s only source of income. "To us, it‘s hugely important“, says Ala.

SHF allocations aim to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable groups in under-served and severely affected areas. And those who receive cash assistance can themselves decide how to spend the money. To many, that means simply making it through the winter, being able to afford sufficient fuel for heating and getting basic winter clothing, shoes and blankets.

"Every time we get cash distributed, we know we can meet some of our most basic and urgent needs. But it doesn‘t stretch far, and it is still difficult to make ends meet,“ Mona says.

The cash assistance through UNRWA is just one of the many Syria Humanitarian Fund projects. In 2018, the SHF allocated 37 million USD to 53 projects in Syria, through 24 partners, supported by 13 donors.