Two Iraqi refugee households in the Syrian capital Damascus recently received an early morning visit from the Arab world’s young film star and WFP celebrity partner Hend Sabry.
DAMASCUS -- Hend, who became a WFP celebrity partner in April 2009, visited two districts in Damascus with a high Iraqi refugee population: Sayyida Zainab and Jaramana. Although Iraqis in Syria are urban refugees and lead a very different life compared to refugees living in camps, they share the longing to return home.
"I know by experience that living outside one's country by choice can be hard sometimes, but I can't even imagine how it feels to be forced to leave your house, your country and life as you knew it behind," said Hend, a Tunisian who has been living mostly in Egypt for the past ten years.
No return in near future
The first Iraqi family the film star visited in their modest house in Al Sayyida Zainab district told her they do not expect to return to Iraq in the near future. “Maybe we will return when the situation changes there, when it’s safe to be in Iraq,” said Durra*, the woman of the house and a mother of three boys.
Hend Sabry, 29, studied law and is in fact a syndicated lawyer. She says acting is only a hobby. Her popularity peaked across the Arabic-speaking world after starring in a popular television series last year. She is proud of her involvement with WFP's humanitarian work. “I am honoured to lend my voice to improve the lives of others. Celebrities can do a lot to raise awareness about human suffering around the world,” she says.
In Jaramana, Hend met Fatma*, an Iraqi journalist who is now working as a cleaner. Fatma spoke of her struggle since leaving her homeland and of how she has not been able to practice her job due to her refugee status. “WFP food ration helps me use the little money I have to pay the rent or buy other necessary things for the house or the children,” she told Hend. The modest flat where Fatma lives with her son and two daughters costs her almost US$125 per month.
Many of the displaced Iraqis who fled to Syria cannot afford healthy and nutritious food. Most of them have run out of savings and are selling their assets and getting into debt to meet their basic needs. Since March 2007, WFP in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been providing food assistance to Iraqis living in Syria.
WFP provides over 150,000 registered Iraqi refugees living in Syria with basic food needs every two months. Families supplement this ration with fresh foods they buy in the local market with the little money they have through savings, the odd job, or their more fortunate relatives.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of beneficiaries.