Australia for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency’s national partner, has launched an urgent Christmas Appeal to support one of the most effective programs for Syrian refugees. The UNHCR Lifeline program provides vital cash assistance to vulnerable refugee families in urban areas of Jordan, but is in danger as funding dries up.

Over 660,000 Syrian refugees are registered in Jordan – some 90 percent of them live in urban areas, as opposed to camps, and more than two out of three live in poverty. With the Syrian conflict now over six years old, many families have exhausted any savings they managed to bring when they fled. Many are mothers raising their children alone, having lost their husbands to the conflict, and they are now forced to survive in urban slums, abandoned buildings and run down lodgings.

One of the most efficient and effective forms of aid for these refugees is the UNHCR Lifeline program. This provides refugees with a small monthly payment, empowering families to decide how best to prioritise basic needs such as rent, food, heating or school materials. Developing technology means that in Jordan iris scans are used at ATMs to ensure only the designated recipient can make a withdrawal.

There is no intermediary, and there are no expensive distribution costs to reach scattered families, so more money goes directly to support refugee families. UNHCR conducts regular home visits to families on the program to ensure the aid is getting to the most vulnerable and monitor their welfare.

Without support like this, many Syrian refugee families cannot afford health care, clothes and rent, with the real risk of being forced onto the streets or back to Syria’s conflict zones. This threat can also mean people resort to desperate measures such as early marriage, child labour and survival sex.

But funding is not keeping up with needs. In Jordan alone, almost 17,000 of the poorest, most at-risk Syrian families are on the waiting list and the number keeps growing. The urgency is even more acute as approaching winter conditions see temperatures plummet below zero.

“UNHCR was one of the first agencies to employ cash-based assistance in the mid-80s and has seen remarkable results on the life of refugees and forcibly displaced people,” said Australia for UNHCR National Director Naomi Steer.

“Refugees know best what they need, so cash-based assistance means they can decide how to manage their family’s budget. This helps them to lead more dignified and normal lives,” said Ms Steer.

Lifeline recipient Noor, who fled to Jordan six years ago with her three children, told UNHCR: “If the Lifeline assistance was cut, I’d have to go back to Syria. It’s very dangerous there, but it would be dangerous here as well though, because we wouldn’t have a roof over our heads. In Syria I’d be homeless, just like everyone else.”

Ms Steer said, “The generosity of Australian donors in supporting this program gives people who have been displaced for years a lifeline to keep themselves and their families afloat until it is safe for them to return home.”

In 2016, UNHCR’s cash assistance reached close to 1.76 million Syrian refugees across the region. It allows refugees the dignity of choosing the kind of assistance they need, whether it is to pay for medicine, new clothes for the children, rent, heating, or food. Because the money is spent on local goods and services, this also strengthens the local economy in host communities.

To donate, go to unrefugees.org/lifeline or call 1300 361 288

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