Yusra Mardini sounds like any other 18-year-old. Bright, energetic, prone to giggles. But last summer, she did what many 18-year-olds can’t even imagine. She swam for three and a half hours in the Aegean Sea, pushing and pulling a rubber dinghy of 17 people to the island of Lesbos, along with her sister Sarah and another refugee.

The harrowing experience represented the final leg of a journey that began with Yusra and her sister fleeing their home in Damascus, Syria and traveling first to Lebanon, then Turkey, until finally managing to get on a boat with a dysfunctional motor. Yusra now hates the open sea. But she still loves to swim.

Yusra is no stranger to competitive swimming; she represented Syria at the 2012 FINA World Swimming Championships. When she finally arrived in Germany in September, she began training in one of Berlin’s oldest swimming clubs with Coach Sven Spannekrebs.

“A lot of people could take her as a role model,” Spannekrebs told The Guardian. “Yusra is very focused. She has clear goals and organizes her life around them.”

Indeed, Yusra envisions a life beyond hardship.

“I want to represent all the refugees because I want to show everyone that, after the pain, after the storm, comes calm days,” she told UNHCR. “I want to inspire them to do something good in their lives.”

This year, Yusra will be part of a 10-person refugee team—the first of its kind—competing in the Olympic Games. Her tournament: The 200-meter freestyle.

“When you are an athlete, you do not think about if you’re Syrian or if you’re from London or from Germany,” she says. “You will just think about your race. You have your lane, your swimming cap, your swimming lessons. That’s it.”

See how Yusra has adjusted to life in Germany and how’s she’s been training for the Games:

CAIRO – As a critical conference opens in Brussels on the future of war-ravaged Syria, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is appealing for the funds it needs to provide urgent food assistance to millions of Syrians who today face the worst humanitarian conditions since the start of the conflict.

A record 12.4 million people in Syria, some 60 percent of population, do not know where their next meal is coming from. Food prices have increased by 222 percent in a year, driven by the tumbling value of the Syrian pound, continuing fuel shortages and ongoing conflict. The economic crisis in neighbouring Lebanon has added another layer of pressure just as the COVID-19 pandemic has eaten into incomes.

“Syrians are hanging by a thread and, while the world is transfixed by a global pandemic that is forcing everyone to look inwards, we must not forget the world’s weakest countries,” said Corinne Fleischer, U.N. World Food Programme Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “We are grateful for the support of our donors over the years. Their contributions have saved lives. But the Syrian people need their support more than ever before.”

The U.N. World Food Programme needs $375 million from now until August for operations in Syria, where it assists 4.8 million people every month. To stretch existing funding, the agency has already been obliged to reduce food rations to most of these by 30 percent.

Meanwhile, Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries also face a daily struggle for survival as the pandemic squeezes their limited incomes. A quarter of refugees in Jordan are food insecure and almost two-thirds are at risk of becoming food insecure. In Lebanon, refugees along with the rest of the population are grappling with the effects of a financial crisis that has seen the currency plummet and prices of basic food commodities shoot skywards.

The U.N. World Food Programme needs a further $259 million to continue assisting Syrian refugees in the region. Those operations, which support Syrians and the communities that host them, reach 2.2 million people per month.

Without new funding to assist Syrians in and outside of Syria, the U.N. World Food Programme will be forced to further reduce the size of monthly food rations or exclude people from assistance.

Download photos

#                       #                           #

The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

Follow us on Twitter @WFPUSA@wfp_media@wfp_syria@wfp_mena

DAMASCUS – After a decade of upheaval, conflict and displacement, Syrians are facing the worst humanitarian conditions since the start of the crisis, with millions of people sliding into hunger in the last year alone, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

“This conflict has taken a tremendous toll on the Syrian people. Every day more and more Syrians are pushed deep into hunger and poverty,” said Sean O’Brien, U.N. World Food Programme Representative and Country Director in Syria.

“Families are faced with impossible choices: do they put food on the table, or get the healthcare they need? Or can they send their children to school? Without sustained assistance, these families simply cannot survive.”

Syrians are facing multiple shocks, including the collapse of the Syrian pound, its impact on the price of basic commodities, the fallout from the financial crisis in Lebanon, as well as the ongoing hostilities and large-scale displacement. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the food security situation.

Some 4.5 million people have sunk into hunger and food insecurity in the last year alone.

A recent assessment by the U.N. World Food Programme and partners estimates that a record 12.4 million Syriansnearly 60 percent of the populationsuffer from food insecurity and hunger today, double the number in 2018. The study also revealed that the number of people who cannot survive without food assistance has doubled in a year, reaching 1.3 million people.

Food prices have increased by more than 200% just in the last year. Families report that, even during the worst years of conflict, life was never as hard as it is now. Parents say they have not eaten meat and fruit for months as prices of staple foods have soared beyond reach.

The U.N. World Food Programme has provided monthly food assistance for nearly 5 million people inside Syria over the past 10 years, using every means available to reach people in need. The U.N. World Food Programme is also providing assistance for more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. These five countries host more than 5.6 million Syrians, the biggest refugee group in the world.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent economic downturn have pushed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in the region deeper into poverty. Meanwhile, in the five countries hosting refugees, the U.N. World Food Programme is facing funding shortfalls and could soon be forced to choose between providing reduced rations or prioritizing the most vulnerable only.

“After 10 years, there’s a lot of fatigue, both in countries hosting refugees and in donor countries who are being stretched by the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on their economies. But the Syrian people cannot take it any longer. We must not forget them. If we do, it will mean losing lives,” said the U.N. World Food Programme’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Corinne Fleischer.

Across the region, progress made over the last 10 years to improve food security are already being reversed. In Lebanon – where the U.N. World Food Programme is assisting nearly 900,000 Syrian refugees – the economic downturn, steep inflation, COVID-19 and finally the Beirut blast have pushed the number of Syrian refugee families living under the extreme poverty line to a staggering 89% in 2020, up from 55% only a year before. Half of all Syrian refugees in the country are food insecure compared to 29% in 2019.

“We are grateful to our donors who have supported us over the years, allowing the U.N. World Food Programme to continue to put food on the table for millions of Syrian families inside and outside Syria. We can’t stop now. Support to the Syrian people is key to regional and to international stability,” Fleischer said.

The United States, Germany and the European Commission have been the U.N. World Food Programme’s top donors over the past decade, providing a total of $6.8 billion for operations inside Syria and in neighboring countries.

Download photos

Download Video News Release

#                     #                          #

The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

Follow us on Twitter @WFPUSA, @wfp_media and @wfp_mena

ROME – The United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), a critical lifeline transporting humanitarian workers and lifesaving cargo to some of the most challenging and hard-to-reach locations, urgently requires $204 million to continue existing operations beyond February 2021.

Disruptions in UNHAS operations have the potential to impact major humanitarian operations including those in Yemen, the Syrian Arab Republic and Haiti, where conditions continue to worsen due to ongoing conflict and the impact of COVID-19.

“UNHAS is, in most cases, the only way that humanitarian organizations can reach people in need, particularly in countries with ongoing conflict and where access by road or sea is not feasible,” says Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, which manages the service. “The disruption of UNHAS operations would cripple the ability of the entire humanitarian community to reach some of the most in need people on the planet.”

UNHAS has not only ensured humanitarian workers and cargo were able to safely reach people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, but has also played an important role in national responses to the pandemic, transporting test samples and critical medical supplies on behalf of governments in many of the countries in which the service operates.

UNHAS, was established in 2004 to serve the humanitarian community where safe and reliable commercial air transport is not available. The service currently runs 21 operations and carries up to 400,000 passengers every year to over 400 destinations via a fleet of aircraft and helicopters. UNHAS, on top of regular passenger and light cargo transport, also performs crucial medical and security evacuations.

#                     #                          #

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

Follow us on Twitter @WFPUSA @wfp_media and @wfp_logistics

For more information please contact:

Eleonora Ponti, WFP/Rome, Tel.+39 342 993 2998, eleonora.ponti@wfp.org
Alicia Stafford, WFP/Rome, Tel. +39 342 771 9577, alicia.stafford@wfp.org

CAIRO – A record 12.4 million Syrians – nearly 60 percent of the population – are now food insecure, according to alarming new national data from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). In just over one year, an additional 4.5 million Syrians have become food insecure.

An economic crisis, job losses as a result of COVID-19 and soaring food prices have added to the plight of Syrians who have been displaced and worn down by a decade of conflict.

“The situation has never been worse. After ten years of conflict, Syrian families have exhausted their savings as they face a spiraling economic crisis,” said U. N. World Food Programme Representative and Country Director in Syria Sean O’Brien.

Basic foods to feed a family for a month – bread, rice, lentils and oil and sugar – now cost more than $250, which far exceeds the average salaries.

“It is alarming that a simple meal is beyond the reach of families across Syria, and this new data shows humanitarian assistance is the difference between putting a meal on the table and going to bed hungry. Lifesaving support has never been so crucial,” said O’Brien.

The 2020 Food Security and Livelihoods Assessment carried out by the U. N. World Food Programme and partners, also estimates the number of people who are severely food insecure – meaning they cannot survive without food assistance – has doubled in just one year to stand at 1.3 million people. Unless urgent action is taken, an additional 1.8 million people are at risk of falling into severe food insecurity.

Over the last year food prices across Syria have soared, and the price of basic items has increased by 236 percent, just as the value of the Syrian Pound has plummeted. On average, the price of oil has increased from $2.15 in Jan 2020, to $10.75 in Jan 2021.

Parents now report making desperate decisions to survive, eating less food so they can feed their children, going into debt, and selling assets and livestock to generate an income. In addition, close to 50 percent of the Syrian population report having lost one or more sources of income because of the economic downturn and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each month the U. N. World Food Programme provides lifesaving food assistance to almost 5 million of Syria’s most vulnerable people. For many, this is the only food they eat each month.

The U. N. World Food Programme requires an additional $375.3 million until July 2021 to ensure continued assistance throughout Syria.

#                     #                          #

The U.N. World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

Follow us on Twitter @WFPUSA @wfp_media and @wfp_mena

Beirut, LEBANON – UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today published the key findings of the 2020 Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (VASyR).

The economic downturn, steep inflation, COVID-19 and finally the Beirut blast have pushed vulnerable communities in Lebanon – including Syrian refugees – to the brink, with thousands of families sinking further into poverty and vulnerability.

One of the most concerning indicators of the impact of the compounded crises Syrian refugees have been facing in Lebanon is the sharp increase in the proportion of households living under the extreme poverty line, reaching a staggering 89 per cent in 2020, up from 55 per cent only a year before. They now live on around $200 per person per month – this is less than half the minimum wage in Lebanon.The economic downturn, steep inflation, COVID-19 and finally the Beirut blast have pushed vulnerable communities in Lebanon – including Syrian refugees – to the brink, with thousands of families sinking further into poverty and vulnerability.

Mireille Girard, UNHCR Representative in Lebanon, said: “The consecutive crises have affected all communities in Lebanon – Lebanese, refugees, migrants, and others – and the most vulnerable are the hardest hit. The situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon has been deteriorating for years, but the findings of this year’s survey are a dramatic indication of how difficult it has become for them to make it through another day.” She added: “The key findings are released at a time when Syrian refugees are facing their hardest winter yet in Lebanon, braving the weather elements with very little to stay warm and safe.”

Refugees Are Accumulating More Debt Than Ever Before

The findings of the survey have indicated that the average amount of debt accumulated by households has increased by 18 per cent with an average debt of more than $1200 per family. The main reason for incurring debt was buying food (93 per cent), followed by rent and medicine at 48 per cent and 34 per cent respectively. Similar to the previous year, 9 out 10 households continue to be in debt, indicating that Syrian refugee households continue to lack enough resources to cover their basic needs.

Half of the Syrian Refugee Population Is Now Food Insecure

Food prices have almost tripled in Lebanon since October 2019 increasing by about 174 per cent. At the same time, income opportunities have drastically shrunk due to the sharp economic slowdown the country has seen over the past twelve months.

Half of Syrian refugee families surveyed were found to be suffering from food insecurity, compared to 28 per cent at the same time in 2019.

Households with inadequate diets have doubled compared to the previous year (25 per cent in 2019 to 49 per cent in 2020), while the number of those resorting to damaging food coping mechanisms such as reducing the number of meals per day or reducing food portions is also on the rise.

Female-headed households are slightly more food insecure than male-headed households, and a far higher proportion of female-headed households (68 per cent) than male-headed households (13 per cent) are using coping strategies categorized as “crisis level” or “emergency level”. Crisis coping strategies include marriage of children under the age of 18, selling productive assets, withdrawing children from school, and reducing expenditure on education and health. Emergency coping strategies include begging, accepting high-risk jobs or sending children to work.

“Refugees are the most vulnerable people in any society and they are no different in Lebanon where the entire population is suffering from multiple crises that are even affecting the country’s middle class,” says Abdallah Al Wardat, U.N. World Food Programme Representative and Country Director in Lebanon. “Thanks to generous support from donors, the U.N. World Food Programme continues to provide assistance to more than 800,000 refugees every month.”

Limited Access to Remote Learning, Child Labor on the Rise  

Due to COVID-19 pandemic, public schools in Lebanon were all closed starting March 2020, and remote learning was introduced across the country. Sixty-five per cent of school-aged children (ages 6-17) enrolled in schools were reported to only have attended school in person, before the closure in March 2020. The remaining 35 per cent had some access to remote/distance learning, of whom one third were not able to follow such lessons, mostly due to lack of or insufficient internet.

The percentage of children aged between 5 and 17 years old who are engaged in child labour almost doubled, up from 2.6 per cent in 2019 to 4.4 per cent in 2020.  Boys are more involved in child labour (6.9 per cent) than girls (1.6 per cent)

“The situation of children is becoming more and more delicate following the unprecedented crises Lebanon faced this year,” said Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon. “We need to ensure that the most vulnerable children and young people are kept healthy, safe, and learning. They should be kept away from negative coping mechanisms such as child labour.”

Access to Civil Documentation Remains a Challenge

Similar to 2019, close to 70 per cent of Syrian refugees continue to lack legal residency. This affects all aspects of refugees’ lives, not only in terms of restricting movement due to increased risk of arrest and detention, but also in posing additional challenges in securing housing and accessing livelihoods.

While improvements in birth registration were noted in 2019, this did not carry over to 2020. In 2020, only 28 per cent of births that had occurred in Lebanon were registered with the Foreigners’ Registry, compared to 30 per cent in 2019 and 21 per cent in 2018. However, almost all births (98 per cent) have the minimum documentation (doctor or midwife certificate).

Tensions Between Host and Refugee Communities Have Decreased

Similar to previous years, competition for jobs was cited by a number of families (40 per cent) as one of the main drivers for tensions between refugee and host communities, however, this is a stark decrease from 2019 (51 per cent). Families citing competition for resources also decreased from 20 per cent in 2019, to only 8 per cent in 2020.

About VASyR

The Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon (VASyR) was conducted jointly by UNHCR, the U.N. World Food Programme, and UNICEF. VASyR 2020 is the eighth version of the annual survey.

The situation in Lebanon has affected all populations living in the country – Lebanese, refugees, migrants and others – with the most vulnerable communities being hit the hardest. While VASyR specifically looks at the Syrian refugee population, UNHCR, the U.N. World Food Programme and UNICEF are all working closely with the Lebanese authorities and other organizations, including the World Bank, to analyze the impact of the situation on vulnerable Lebanese, and to provide appropriate assistance.

Between August and September 2020, VASyR survey teams visited a nationally representative sample of 4,563 Syrian refugee households, covering all districts across Lebanon.

The survey is the cornerstone of the Lebanon Crisis Response plan (LCRP) and programming for many (I)NGOs, UN and development actors.

#          #         #

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. UNHCR works closely with the Government of Lebanon and numerous other national and international partners in providing protection and assistance to refugees and stateless persons, as well as Lebanese communities.

The U.N. World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change. In Lebanon, the U.N. World Food Programme in close collaboration with its partners is the largest provider of direct food and non-food assistance to refugees and vulnerable Lebanese communities.

UNICEF works in the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

For more information, contact:

Reem Nada, +2010 6663 452, Reem.Nada@wfp.org
Edmond Khoury, +961 81 313 091, Edmond.Khoury@wfp.org

It looks like you're outside of the United States.

Are you alright with going to the

Continue Continue

Get inspiring stories and critical news updates on fighting global hunger.

SIGN UP