Hunger Drives Refugees Back To Syria
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We have heard a lot about the scarce resources in refugee camps set up for Syrians in neighboring countries. Now there's a new troubling indicator. The situation in these camps has gotten so bad that some refugees are going back to Syria. The number of refugees leaving Jordan each day almost doubled from July to August. And the numbers have remained high. One of the big reasons - there's not enough food. Funding shortfalls have forced the U.N.'s World Food Programme to cut aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan by half, leaving hundreds of thousands without food vouchers. Ertharin Cousin is the executive director of the World Food Programme. She joins us on the line now from Milan. Welcome to the program.
ERTHARIN COUSIN: Thank you, Rachel.
MARTIN: Can you tell us what the situation is right now? What's your best information on how families are coping?
COUSIN: Well, what we're seeing is people returning to Syria. We're seeing people pulling their children out of school. Children are working and begging on streets. We're seeing people leaving the country. And one of the factors - when those refugees who are coming into Europe are asked why did they come, it is because they are no longer receiving assistance.
MARTIN: The families that are leaving Jordan, the camps or the neighborhoods where they've been staying and going back to Syria, are you talking with them? Do you have any information on why they think returning to a Civil War is a better alternative than staying in a refugee camp?
COUSIN: Well, they returned - yes, they returned to Syria because they have family there. They can borrow from neighbors and from family. They moved back into houses where they left because of fear. But if you have no choice, if you cannot feed your child and you think that you may be able to borrow from someone who is your loved one, who will not let you go hungry when the world will allow your children to go hungry, you back into Syria, or you take the challenge of getting on a boat. And many of the people that we have talked to - and I was with the high commissioner of refugees yesterday. He was saying that in their interviews with the refugees, what they're being told is that many of the people who are going back to Syria are selling their assets inside Syria to raise enough money so that they can take the boats to go into Europe. So they are depleting whatever resources they have left in hopes of finding some opportunity in a place that they have - know nothing about.
MARTIN: Is the World Food Programme - is the WFP able to deliver any assistance inside Syria?
COUSIN: Yes. In fact, we are feeding four million people per month inside Syria, both from a cross-line standpoint and a cross-border standpoint. The challenge - there are areas that we have not been able to access for weeks at a time or months at a time. An area that we can access one month we may not have the ability to go there next month because of the fighting. We are in contact with both sides, both the opposition as well as the government, and we try to keep all of our people and our partners out of harms way and avoiding the bombing. So we steer towards those places where we can get into the area to provide the assistance that's necessary to the people who are still living inside Syria.
MARTIN: This has to be frustrating, though, for you to see refugees leaving camps because they can't get enough food, choosing instead to return back to Syria. You say it's because of a funding shortfall. What's to account for that?
COUSIN: We are addressing a political problem with humanitarian solutions, and when donors provide assistance to us, provide - invest in WFP, they say we've already given WFP money. And I say, and we've already fed people, but if people can't feed themselves, if they can't go back to work, then we must continue to provide the assistance that is necessary to the victims of this political conflict.
MARTIN: Ertharin Cousin in the executive director of the World Food Programme. She joined us on the line from Milan, Italy. Thank you so much for talking with us.
COUSIN: Thank you for this opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.