Australia for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency’s national partner, is today launching its Christmas Appeal to raise urgently needed funds for Syrian refugees in Jordan. The appeal is supported by actor Marta Dusseldorp, a Special Representative for the organisation, who recently travelled to the Middle East to meet refugee families who rely on assistance from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The UNHCR Lifeline program provides financial support to some of the most vulnerable refugee families in the region. Many of these families are female-headed households that have lost husbands and fathers to the conflict in Syria. 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.

Because more than 90 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in urban areas, not camps, reaching them with aid distributions such as food or blankets would be costly and inefficient. The UNHCR Lifeline program instead provides a monthly payment for families to spend according to their specific needs. There is no intermediary so more money – 98 cents in every dollar – goes to the refugees to help cover basic needs such as food, heating or rent. UNHCR conducts regular home visits to families on the program to ensure the aid is getting to the most vulnerable and monitor their welfare.

During her mission, Dusseldorp spent time with Syrian refugee families, and saw the impact of the assistance they receive.

“The great thing about the program is it gives people the dignity to withdraw the cash on their own, take that money to spend at a shop, interact with the community, give to the community, and the community gives back to them,” said Dusseldorp. “It means they can choose what they need. I don’t want to be told where to spend my money, and neither do they. Especially as a mother, you know exactly what your family needs.”

The program currently reaches 30,000 Syrian families in Jordan each month. However funding is not keeping up with needs. In Jordan, almost 17,000 of the poorest, most at-risk Syrian families are on the waiting list, and without more funding there is a danger that even those currently on the UNHCR Lifeline program will lose their payments.

“Some of the Syrian refugee families I met in Jordan told me this assistance made the difference between life and death for them. It’s certainly what stops them becoming homeless,” said Dusseldorp.

“I met the most incredible woman, Noor, who is raising her three children alone in Jordan. She told me that her husband was in prison in Syria, so she and the children had to flee without him. I really don’t know what mothers like Noor would do without the UNHCR Lifeline program – she is already living below the poverty line and only just hanging on as it is.”

Dusseldorp has been a Special Representative for Australia for UNHCR since 2014. In this role, she advocates for the rights of refugees and other displaced people, and supports fundraising activity in Australia for the UN Refugee’s international humanitarian work.

To donate to UNHCR’s Lifeline Appeal, go to unrefugees.org/lifeline or call 1300 361 288

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