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Assistant Secretary Anne Richard and Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg Meet With Syrian Refugees

This originally appeared on the U.S. Department of State’s Dipnote.

Assistant Secretary Anne Richard traveled to the refugee camps in Turkey with Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg. Read more about their trip. 

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg visited a refugee camp for Syrians in Turkey. While there, they met with Turkish partners and assistance providers to discuss the needs of Syrian refugees and ongoing humanitarian assistance efforts.

The U.S. delegation commended the generosity of the Government of Turkey and the Turkish people, and recognized the Turkish Red Crescent for its tireless efforts to provide protection and assistance to Syrians affected by the crisis. Assistant Secretary Richard said, “I come away very impressed by the way the Turkish government has provided so much to the Syrian refugees. Many of the Syrians with whom I spoke today are very grateful to the government of Turkey, to the people of Turkey.”

“We are working to ensure that if more people come out of Syria they will also get a reception like this,” Assistant Secretary Richard said. “We are supporting the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. USAID is working with the World Food Programme so we want to continue the ability for refugees to cross open borders and get the help they need. They are not alone, they are supported by the United States and the American funding is coming through international organizations, to reach them, and to help them, and to help their compatriots.”

Assistant Administrator Lindborg said, “…We have prioritized getting critical winter assistance in. It’s cold right now and we know that when you’re displaced and you’ve had to leave your home suddenly that you need essential blankets, carpets, warm clothing, plastic sheeting, ways to help families survive the winter. We will have reached 460,000 people, particularly in the northern parts of Syria with that kind of help by the end of this month. We know that’s not enough. This is a crisis of enormous proportions. We are moving aggressively to provide additional assistance. We call on other countries to do the same.”

The United States is providing food aid, medical supplies, emergency and basic health care, shelter materials, clean water, hygiene education and supplies, and other relief supplies — including blankets and heaters — to help millions of people affected by the crisis in Syria. More than two and a half million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance, approximately 1.2 million people are internally displaced, and over half a million people have fled to the neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.

Photo of the Week: State and USAID Visit WFP Distribution Center in Jordan

Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne C. Richard and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg visit a World Food Programme Distribution Center in Amman, Jordan, where refugees living in host communities receive vouchers on January 27, 2013. They can use these vouchers to shop for their families in local supermarkets. Photos from  State Department.

President Obama Announces Additional Humanitarian Aid for the Syrian People

This post originally appeared on The White House Blog.

Americans and people all over the world have been moved by the images of courageous Syrians standing up to a brutal regime, even as they suffer the consequences of the violence waged against them by the Assad government. Right now, humanitarian conditions in Syria are deteriorating in the face of a massive, man-made humanitarian emergency. People have been forced from their homes; schools, clinics and bakeries continue to be targeted; and food prices are on the rise as winter takes hold.

The numbers are staggering. According to the United Nations, an estimated 2.5 million people are displaced inside of Syria, and over 678,000 people have fled to neighboring countries. Their stories touch us all, and the American people will continue to stand with them. That is why President Obama announced today that he has approved a new round of humanitarian assistance, an additional $155 million to provide for the urgent and pressing needs of civilians in Syria and refugees forced to flee the violence of the Assad regime. This brings America’s contribution to date to $365 million, making the United States the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.

Our assistance is being delivered all across Syria and is providing food, clean water, medicines and medical treatment for hundreds of thousands of people. It will expand the delivery of vaccines for children and clothing and winter supplies for millions of people facing both the regime’s brutality and the hardships of winter. It will supply flour to bakeries in Aleppo to provide daily bread, and allow families to feed their children; it will finance field hospitals to care for those who are wounded; and it will provide care and services for the growing number of victims of sexual violence. Our assistance also supports a growing number of refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

Humanitarian assistance sometimes means the difference between life and death, and that is why courageous men and women have been working day and night to ensure that these supplies are reaching those who need it most. The dangers of operating in Syria mean that many Syrians may not know that the medical care, supplies, and food that  they are receiving is being provided by the people and government of the United States. It is a cruel fact that humanitarian aid providers and recipients are being deliberately targeted in Syria. Our priority is to get American aid to those in need without endangering them or our humanitarian partners, which is why much of our aid is provided quietly and without fanfare and acknowledgement.

The good news is that we are able to work with a wide range of dedicated and courageous international partners and Syrian humanitarian organizations whose commitment to reaching those in need is unwavering, and that we are also able to work with the Syrian Opposition Coalition to identify and locate those in need. Also among the many unsung heroes of the humanitarian response in Syria are Syrian-American individuals and organizations, with whom we are working to meet urgent needs now and help lay the ground for a more peaceful future.

The Assad regime is using a destructive and, sadly, not unfamiliar tactic as it attempts to destroy the livelihoods of the Syrian people. But as President Obama said in his video remarks, “We’re under no illusions.  The days ahead will continue to be very difficult. But what’s clear is that the regime continues to weaken and lose control of territory. The opposition continues to grow stronger. More Syrians are standing up for their dignity. The Assad regime will come to an end. The Syrian people will have their chance to forge their own future. And they will continue to find a partner in the United States of America.”

Read the President’s message in Arabic (pdf). You can also watch the video with Arabic subtitles.


Video of the Week: Administrator Shah Discusses Humanitarian Crisis in Syria

On the heels of his return from a refugee camp in Turkey, Dr. Shah did a live interview on Friday, December 7th with Al Jazeera English about the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Dr. Shah stressed the importance of international support for those affected by the crisis, which is why the U.S. has committed more than $200 million for displace people inside and outside of Syria.  He also noted that humanitarian efforts are reaching about 1.5 million people with food, 400,000 families with winterization materials, 22,000 people with surgeries.

Engaging with Arab Americans on Syria

On Friday, September 28, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah traveled to the Arab American National Museum in Michigan to meet with a group of Arab American leaders and tour the museum. The Smithsonian Institution-affiliated museum, which chronicles the contributions of Arab Americans to the United States and the world, is the first and only one of its kind. It is located in Dearborn, the city with the largest percentage of Arab Americans in America, and is a project of Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), the largest Arab American social service organization in the United States.

At the roundtable, Administrator Shah, moderator Hassan Jaber, the executive director of ACCESS, and Arab American community and organizational leaders discussed USAID’s work in the Middle East, in particular in support of the people of Syria, and how diaspora and immigrant communities can be engaged.

The event came just as Secretary Clinton was hosting a Friends of Syria meeting in New York and announcing nearly $30 million in additional humanitarian assistance to help those affected by the conflict in Syria.

One participant told Dr. Shah that as a child in Syria, he had seen the distribution of bags of food with USAID’s logo of clasped hands and that this had left a permanent imprint on him – it made him realize that the United States cared about him and the people around him. What, he wanted to know, was USAID doing now in the midst of the crisis in Syria?

The United States, in partnership with the international community, is tirelessly working to provide aid to the innocent children, women, and men affected by this conflict. We are delivering more than $130 million in humanitarian assistance to help more than 975,000 people inside Syria and the nearly 300,000 who have fled to the safety of neighboring countries. We are the largest provider of food aid to those affected by the crisis, and we are providing medical supplies and medical care in some of the hardest-hit cities in Syria. Due to ongoing violence and access restrictions, humanitarian partner organizations and their courageous staff are not yet able to reach everyone in need, but we continue to work to expand our aid networks to overcome these hurdles and provide additional humanitarian assistance for those affected by the crisis.

The meeting was a good opportunity for Dr. Shah to discuss his experiences on his recent visit to Za’aatri refugee camp near the Syria-Jordan border and his conversations with Syrians, young and old, who have sought refuge at the camp.

Equally important was the chance for Dr. Shah and USAID staff to learn from the people in the room, many of whom have family and friends in Syria. They shared their understanding of the situation on the ground, discussed what they are doing to help, and identified needs that might be addressed by the U.S. Government. They wanted to talk not only about the here and now but to engage also on a post-Assad era.

This meeting is part of an ongoing dialogue to deepen our partnerships with immigrant and diaspora community members to help the Syrian people.

Visit our website for additional information about what the United States is doing to help the people of Syria.

Photo of the Week: USAID in Yemen

Yemeni school girls wave the Yemen flag last autumn after USAID efforts helped return children to classes following the 2011 Yemen uprising. Photo Credit: USAID

This week, Administrator Shah is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for the Yemen Donor Conference. Learn about the work USAID is already doing in Yemen.

Empowering Yemeni Youth

My home town – Aden, Yemen – has been engulfed by a series of crises over the past year that have negatively affected my people. We are not used to seeing young people carrying guns and showing so little tolerance for one another. Sadly, this is now the norm.

My concern for my community drew me to service, and in 2009 I established the Leaders Community Services Association in Aden along with several other young people. Our mission is to support our community and find ways to engage young people.

For nearly three years we have partnered in this mission with USAID and, in that time, I have come to believe that our commitments and our objectives are parallel. We both see the need for an integrated approach to addressing the many challenges faced by young Yemenis.  We must address these challenges strategically, and understand the root causes of my society’s struggles: unemployment, the large number of young people without job, and the fragmentation of traditional societal structures.

Early last year I joined a USAID workshop focused on developing life skills.  It opened my eyes to how much more can be done to empower and motivate young people to become active in their communities and got me thinking of different ways of bringing about community change.

I started thinking of new ways my association could target larger audiences. We turned to USAID’s Engaging Youth for a Stable Yemen program, and together we held a festival promoting peace and understanding in my community. With USAID’s help, we organized an event which encouraged youth to use their time wisely and discouraged them from carrying arms. We encouraged participation by hosting a concert featuring hip-hop and rap acts, and documentary films emphasizing constructive options for youth. The festival was the first of its kind in Aden and my peers loved it. My team learned that Aden youth are ready to engage and volunteer to benefit their community.

I was motivated by our success and USAID’s help pulling the event together to develop my skills as a community activist further. With USAID support, I pursued a three-month internship with the Creative People’s Solution Institute. I am now working with the Institute to help run training sessions on resolving community conflicts and disputes, which could reach more than 6,000 local youth.

Recently, I received a U.S. government grant to help 400 youth at the University of Aden’s schools of medicine, engineering, education, and arts become involved in their communities. Participants will receive life skills training, and will be asked to develop and implement ideas to improve their educational experience.

I am passionate about making improvements in my community, helping its members better understand each other, and creating a healthy environment for dialogue and tolerance. It is a labor of love that USAID and the American people are helping me to pursue.

Areej Haider is a 26-year-old community activist in Aden. She is a student at the University of Aden School of Medicine. Areej obtained a Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) fellowship in 2005 which launched her as a community activist. She is a founder and head of the Leaders Community Services LCP Association.

Expanding Access to Quality Education and Improved Health Care in the West Bank’s “Area C”

I recently had the opportunity to visit a construction site in Jalazone, just outside of Ramallah in the West Bank, where the U.S. Government is partnering with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in cooperation with Palestinian and Israeli officials, to build a school that will provide a safe and vastly improved learning environment for more than 1,100 girls.

Once completed, the school will provide an enhanced learning environment for more than 1,100 girls. Photo Credit: Lubna Rifi

Jalazone is located in what is known as “Area C,” an area that comprises approximately 60 percent of the West Bank and is under Israeli administrative and security control, in accordance with the terms of the Oslo Accords. The expansion work on the Jalazone School, which includes building 23 new modern classrooms, science labs, vocational training rooms, and all the facilities of a functioning school, is part of U.S. efforts, underway for some time, working closely with the Palestinian Authority and Israeli officials, to improve access to essential services for Palestinians living in “Area C.”

While visiting the construction site, UNRWA’s West Bank Field Director Felipe Sanchez and I spoke with the Principal at the school, Sana Bayyari. She explained how much she and her students and teachers are looking forward to moving from the current school’s overcrowded and run-down classrooms to what will effectively be a fully renovated school by March 2013. These renovations will significantly improve the educational environment at the school, originally built in the 1950s. Principal Bayyari also noted that they are especially excited that they will no longer have to attend school in double shifts as they have been doing for years to accommodate all of the students.

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Ensuring Iraqi Communities Benefit from Local Oil Wealth

When you arrive in Basra in southern Iraq for the first time, all you are able to see is desert and the occasional smoke plumes from the oil fields. The city of Basra has a storied history that ranges from a possible site for the Garden of Eden to being the hometown of Sinbad the sailor, but years of civil unrest have turned it into a gray and melancholy place. At least on the surface. When you look closely, you will see that the city is full of life. Children are everywhere-they run and play, laughing and shrieking in family parks that have recently popped up around the city.  The busiest of all is a newly completed family park in Al Nashwa, a working class neighborhood of Basra.  The beautiful, green park, opened a few months ago- complete with tricycles and benches- has brought a splash of color and hope to the children and families of this hardscrabble district. As day stretches into night, the warm natural light fades and is replaced by the cool light of overhead solar lamps.  Children boast of their clean playground, families linger, chatting and relaxing —comfortable in the safety of the well-illuminated grounds.

The solar-lit park is the product of a partnership between an international oil company and the local community in Al Nashwa.  But it wouldn’t be what it is today without USAID’s efforts training a local community action group that wanted to do more in its community.

Representatives from an oil company and Al Nashwa community preside over the opening ceremony for the family park and solar lighting installation. Photo Credit: Mercy Corps

The company had originally proposed the installing solar street lighting to benefit pedestrians and drivers. However, in the course of engaging with the community and the USAID-trained community action group, another more pressing need was identified: creating a safe place for children and families to spend time.  Working together, the community was able to prioritize their needs and present the project to the potential donor.

This successful partnership between an oil company and the Al Nashwa community has inspired further collaboration in Basra on significant infrastructure projects, such as road expansion and crosswalks.

USAID’s Community Action Program is the model being used to ensure community participation in the processes that shape projects sponsored by the international oil companies and the local government. Since 2003, the program has worked with Iraqi communities to assist them in identifying and prioritizing their needs while promoting improved engagement with local governments and other stakeholders.

In Al Zubair, initial discussions between an international oil company and the USAID-trained local community action group identified unemployed widows as a priority for the community.  The company agreed to fund a sewing cooperative that would give training and equipment to 15 disadvantaged local women.  The project suits needs all around:  not only can the company save time and money by having company uniforms produced locally, but the women can earn income and gain valuable sewing, embroidery, and business management skills.  In the coming months, the Al Zubair sewing cooperative hopes to find new clients with the growing oil industry in Basra.

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USAID Helps Palestinian Olive Farmers Improve Harvests of “Liquid Gold”

During my recent visit to Jenin, in the northern West Bank, I had the chance to visit the Canaan Fair Trade Company. With USAID assistance, Canaan is helping Palestinian growers increase their yields and tap into the rapidly growing global market in organic, fair trade products. The projects I saw showed how relatively modest investments can pay huge dividends for rural communities.

Assistant Administrator Mara Rudman sampling Palestinian delicacies while visiting Canaan Fair Trade. Credit: Ghassan Al 'Jamal, USAID/WestBank/Gaza

Growers in the hills and valleys around Jenin have been making healthy organic cold-pressed olive oil and other local delicacies for centuries. But frequent droughts and growing practices that did not always most effectively conserve an unreliable water supply, combined with a limited local market for their products, have made it extremely challenging for growers to realize substantial profits from their hard work.

By bringing together local growers to raise standards, improve packaging, and market their goods jointly under the Canaan Fair Trade brand, Canaan has helped growers to reap greater rewards from their products while producing more sustainable results and conserving the resources used in doing so. Word of their successes spread quickly and today Canaan sources its agricultural food products from a network of 49 cooperatives, providing incomes for more than 1,700 farming families belonging to the Palestine Fair Trade Association.

A machine in the Canaan Fair Trade facility affixes labels reading “Delicacies from the Land of Milk and Honey.” Photo Credit: Canaan Fair Trade

With USAID’s support, Canaan has been able to find new markets by preparing for and participating in the 2010 and 2011 Fancy Food Shows in the United States. These shows are the largest specialty food fairs in North America. Canaan’s management told me during my visit that their products are proving so popular in North America and Europe that the company is looking to expand further. To assist Canaan in this, we also have been able to partner with them on initiatives to help growers increase their yields.

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