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Lives Unseen: Urban Syrian Refugees and Jordanian Host Communities -- Three Years Into the Syria Crisis

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Imagine your wife is sick. She has cancer. But you do not tell her, because you have no money to pay for her treatment. Your children cannot go to school. They have to work because you are injured and cannot generate an income for your family. You are living in a tiny, damp room with mold on the wall and nothing but an old mattress to sleep on the cold ground. You might have to move out of the dwelling soon because you already owe hundreds of dollars to the landlord. You were not able to pay the rent in the past two months.

This is the story of Faisal, a young father and a Syrian refugee in Jordan. Faisal's reality is the reality of many of the 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan and other neighboring countries who fled the war in Syria.

CARE International has found in a new study that the more than half a million Syrian refugees living in urban areas in Jordan are struggling more than ever to cope with inadequate housing, high debts, rising costs of living and educational challenges for their children. Nine out of ten refugees owe hundreds of dollars to relatives, landlords, shopkeepers or neighbors. Three years after the beginning of the crisis, Syrian refugees have become more and more destitute. They have fled from their homes months or years ago and they have run out of savings.

Imagine the grueling choices faced by the displaced: Do we send our children to school, or encourage them to get jobs to help us pay the rent? Of the few mementos we have carried from our homeland, and the simple furnishings given to us by humanitarian agencies, what do we sell to meet this months' food bill? Is it the heater, or the wedding ring? These are real decisions, the kind the refugees have to make every day. In many cases, young sons become the family's breadwinner to make ends meet. Our study shows that only half of the Syrian refugee boys are currently attending school (compared with 62 percent of girls). We are losing an entire generation of children, the most critical investment for Syria's future.

The world's attention has focused on the enormous refugee camp at Zaatari -- but more than 80 percent of Syria's refugees are not living in camps, but in cities, towns and villages. Unable to work legally in the countries where they have sought asylum, they survive off their savings, gifts from family or neighbors, and, worryingly, black-market jobs and in high debt. They live in crowded, run-down apartments with extended family members or even strangers, they squat in abandoned buildings or construct makeshift shelters.

36 percent of the families registered with CARE are headed by women. They have fled without their husbands, who are either still in Syria, injured or have been killed. They have to take care of their young children and older relatives, but have difficulties to earn money. They worry about how they can cover their monthly expenses and deal with medical emergencies. The memories of war and the loss of family members left scars in their hearts. One out of ten families CARE interviewed said that they need support to cope with the experience of conflict, flight and displacement.

Since the crisis started, CARE has provided nearly 300,000 Syrians and vulnerable host communities in Jordan and Lebanon with humanitarian assistance.Our primary work is providing cash assistance to the poorest: it is one of the simplest and most efficient ways to help urban refugees meet their urgent needs, and it supports both the displaced and the economies of the communities that have taken them in. And yet the organizations providing support for Syrian refugees find themselves drastically underfunded.

The international humanitarian community has estimated it will need U.S. dollar 4.25 billion to provide for the most basic needs of these people in 2014. Less than 15 percent of that figure has been raised. CARE has secured less than 25 per cent of the U.S. dollar 200 million that we anticipate we will need to continue our operations this year.

We in the international community cannot allow the youth and children of Syria to become a lost generation, raised in destitution and without opportunities. We cannot watch how thousands of refugees' chronic diseases and severe medical conditions turn into acute medical emergencies. We cannot allow that parents have to send their boys to work instead of to school, we cannot allow that fathers like Faisal have to watch their wives suffer. We cannot look away any longer. We can and we must do more to help.