RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Winter weather is making an already vulnerable situation even worse for the millions of Syrian refugees who've been displaced. Makeshift camps and flimsy shelters provide little protection against the frigid temperatures. Aid organizations have stepped in to help. UNICEF and the U.N. World Food Program will provide more than 40,000 Syrian refugee children with a cash donation to buy winter clothes. Here to tell us more about the program is UNICEF's humanitarian affairs specialist, Lucio Melandri. He joins us over Skype from Amman, Jordan. Welcome to the program.
LUCIO MELANDRI: Thank you very much.
MARTIN: I imagine you have been to these refugee camps. Can you describe the conditions there and why things get so much worse in the winter time?
MELANDRI: When you are a refugee, you are escaping for a war. Usually, you have not even the time to get the basic needs with you. You simply pack the few things you can get, and you escape. And that is the way that refugees are getting to Jordan, to Lebanon, to Iraq when they are escaping from the conflict in Syria.
Here, once we are receiving the first support, they're getting shelter. They're getting tents. They're getting some material in order to survive. But of course, we have to understand that those shelters are not houses, but temporary shelters. So those are quite acceptable in normal situations, in normal weather conditions. But when exceptional weather conditions are affecting the refugee camps, you can imagine that under the snow, unprotected, the children are the first paying all the consequences.
MARTIN: UNICEF and other aid organizations have upped their assistance during the winter for Syrian refugees the past few years of this war. But this is the first year I understand that you are unrolling this voucher program for winter clothes. Can you explain how it works?
MELANDRI: Yeah, exactly. The refugees are receiving an electronic card. And this electronic card is sort of credit card with whom they can access supermarkets that have been established in the refugee camps where goods, food, clothes are available. And through these cards, they can choose what is the best for their children, and they can pay with these card. This system is avoiding, first of all, long queue of people lining just to receive some items. It is increasing the dignity of the refugees because they are experiencing a sort of normality.
MARTIN: I can imagine that things get desperate in these kind of situations and in refugee camps. Is there an accountability mechanism in place to make sure that the guardian of that child is buying the winter clothes that they're supposed to buy?
MELANDRI: We have agreement with those supermarkets that this pocket of money is to be used only to buy clothes for children. So when they're going to the cashier and paying, they can't use this pocket in the electronic card to pay anything else.
MARTIN: Lucio, where do the winter clothes come from? Are they all donations?
MELANDRI: No. The winter clothing the refugees access through this voucher system are commercial clothes. The supermarkets are private supermarkets, Jordanian supermarket that made an agreement with the government and with the U.N. system. And they have their normal supply chain.
What we have the right to do is to check the quality of the items and the price of the items. So in such a way, we are assuring even a positive impact on the economical, financial situation of the hosting country.
MARTIN: Lastly, Lucio, these refugee camps were set up as a temporary refuge for people, as a temporary sanctuary for people who have fled the war in Syria. What you're describing, though, are institutions, supermarkets set up to cater to refugees to help them, credit cards. What does this say about the crisis itself?
MELANDRI: So I think there are two main points to make on such an issue. The first is everybody in the beginning of the crisis was expecting a short-term displacement. But now entering the fourth year of this conflict, everybody we realize - is realizing that it will take time. It will be a long-term displacement. So we need to be normative.
And we need to assure that whatever we are doing is not only providing the benefit to the refugees that generously have been hosted by Jordan, but in a way is providing a benefit even to the hosting community, to the Jordanian community. Refugee camps are becoming not permanent settlement, but the methodology that we have to use is to give dignity, possibility and normality to the people that lost their normal daily lives.
MARTIN: Lucio Melandri with UNICEF. Thank you so much for talking with us.
MELANDRI: Thank you very much to you.
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