During his nearly 15 years with the Red Cross, Steve McAndrew has been on the frontlines of some of the biggest disasters in recent history. He has helped with Red Cross responses to natural disasters in Asia, Africa, South America, Haiti and the Caribbean, and now, the conflict in Syria.
For the past three months, McAndrew has coordinated efforts for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) response to the crisis in Syria as the head of emergency operations in Jordan, where more than 500,000 registered Syrian refugees are now living. Estimates add another 200-300,000 unregistered refugees in the area. Prior to Jordan, he was based in Lebanon, a country where nearly 25% of the current population is comprised of Syrian refugees.
While he describes the situation for those impacted by the more than two years of conflict as violent and chaotic; without the work of the international Red Cross, in particular the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), “It’d be 1,000 times worse,” said McAndrew. “I have absolutely seen our impact.”
While the refugees in Jordan are relieved to be out of the immediate violence of their home country, the environment remains stressful.
“Just having to leave your home, neighborhood, family and job, traveling an unsecure and dangerous journey is stressful,” said McAndrew. “They are relieved to be here, but it’s an open-ended situation. Beyond regular needs like food, water, shelter, and protection, people need a peace of mind. They don’t have that; there is no certainty.”
“The way we help is different in a natural disaster,” McAndrew explained. “Immediately after a disaster happens, the people themselves are starting to rebuild their lives, trying to get back to the way it was before. With conflict of this nature, where there are so many refugees, there is no vision of what was before. There are so many unknowns. Where will they work? Where will their kids go to school?”
Part of McAndrew’s job is ensuring Red Cross expertise and resources help those most in need. Recently he helped mobilize the Canadian, Finnish, German and Norwegian Red Cross societies to build and run an emergency field hospital that will provide surgery and maternal and child care for some 55,000 refugees, with the ability to expand if needed.
With the Jordan National Red Crescent Society, he has also overseen the implementation of a program to provide small cash grants to refugees in Jordan, allowing families to maintain their dignity and autonomy to make decisions for themselves, while stimulating local economies and supporting local markets.
“Syrians are just like everyone else,” McAndrew said. “They want security, to be able to provide for their families and live in peace. Maybe watch some football on Sundays. Our differences are merely superficial. How we dress. The language we speak. They are suffering incredibly. We cannot forget them.”
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), with support from the global Red Cross network, has been assisting those in need since the violence began in March 2011. In many parts of the country, it is the only humanitarian organization on the ground. Here are some of the latest numbers:
The American Red Cross continues to support humanitarian efforts in the region and has contributed a total of $1,035,000 to date. The most recent contribution of $400,000 helped the Syrian Arab Red Crescent provide food, relief supplies and basic healthcare to the affected population. Previous contributions supported refugee operations in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.