By David Hennessy
Last week, the actress Michelle Dockery launched a major appeal to help families affected by the Syria crisis get through harsh winter months. Dockery is well known for playing Lady Mary in Downton Abbey and her father was born in Athlone. Last month, the actress visited refugees in Jordan.
Conditions for refugees are difficult with many only having the thin summer clothes they fled with and insufficient. Temperatures are plunging already although the winter has yet to come.
While launching Oxfam’s 12 Days of Giving appeal which hopes to raise £1m for its emergency response, Dockery spoke of her experiences meeting those worst affected: What I have seen and heard on my trip is hard to put into words. I met families who have had to leave the homes they have been building for years, mothers who have fled with their children leaving husbands and loved ones behind, unsure when they will be reunited. All of the refugees I met were experiencing a terrible suffering which is hard to comprehend.
“I met families living in sprawling camps, tents on the side of the road and rented accommodation in horrific conditions with the damp so extreme it is making children and the elderly sick. Mothers told me their children are already unable to sleep because of the cold and it is only going to get worse.
“I met just a few of the millions of refugees from Syria who are going to need the very basics to keep them warm and survive the coming months. Oxfam will be doing the best they can by delivering winter kits to help many of the poorest families, but they want to be able to do much more and so we really need the public’s help.”
The refugee population in Lebanon is now estimated at around one million. Many of these families are living in areas which are particularly prone to rain, snow and bitterly cold temperatures. In Jordan, families make do with makeshift tents and mostly inadequate housing.
Cold conditions are leading to a spread of respiratory diseases amongst children as families share cramped conditions. The health services in host countries like Jordan and Lebanon are feeling the strain, particularly in emergency rooms and clinics, and an increase in demand throughout winter is only going to add further stress on services.
Money raised through this appeal will go towards distributing blankets and gas heaters as well as plastic sheets to provide better protection from the rain.
The British government has said that it will match all public donations to the Oxfam appeal.
Speaking on BBC television, Michelle added: “It was really heartbreaking to see in person what the Syrian refugees are going through. I think there’s only so much you can really take in by images seen in the media. I guess before I got involved with Oxfam and this particular appeal, I felt a little ignorant really to what is really going on in Jordan and Lebanon.
“The children are, I think, the biggest worry for most families because there is a lack of so much for them. Oxfam are doing as much as they can to provide sanitation but as the winter is drawing in, so many of the children I saw there were having fevers and coughs that will of course escalate as the winter goes on. And the conditions are quite dangerous, more so in the informal settlements outside Satari, Oman. It’s a very dangerous environment for the children.”
People can donate at: www.oxfam.org.uk/syria.