As winter overtakes Iran, refugees there from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan face the rigors of sub-zero temperatures. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is working with Community World Service – Asia to prepare the refugees for the winter cold.
"Transit points and refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan have received the bulk of humanitarian assistance and media coverage," said Yovanna Troansky, UMCOR's executive secretary for disaster risk reduction. "But humanitarian response in Iran has gone largely unnoticed."
The holy city of Qom, south of Iran's capital, Tehran, has proved to be a magnet for thousands of refugee families, drawn there by its importance as a religious center and its accompanying traditions of charity.
Here UMCOR's support is concentrated, in partnership with CWS-Asia, an agency that has substantial experience in aiding refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria. The UMCOR-supported program is providing essential items to fend off winter's harsh effects among the most vulnerable members of the refugee population.
"We are targeting women, children and the elderly, as well as persons with disabilities, who, of course, suffer disproportionately in severe winter conditions," said CWS-Asia regional director, Marvin Parvez.
The aid, which includes locally procured rugs, gloves, hats and warm jackets, is reaching those in need through the efforts of a local Iranian group, HAMI, the Persian-language acronym for Association for the Protection of Refugee Women and Children. HAMI works to provide shelter, food and other needs, including children's schooling.
"Iran's decades of international isolation, and western economic sanctions against the country, have impacted Iranian humanitarian efforts with both poor Iranians and incoming refugees alike," Parvez pointed out. "Charitable NGOs and religious organizations have found their capacities seriously reduced.
"We see that suffering populations such as the Syrians who seek refuge in Iran are no less in need than those fleeing to closer countries like Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey – but attention, certainly from the West and its mainstream media, has predominantly gone to those latter nations," he said.
UMCOR's aid will continue until spring's return in March 2016. Parvez said CWS-Asia is "glad to have this gracious and supportive assistance from UMCOR." He is confident his agency's work, in partnership with HAMI, "though small when compared with the vast need, will help many refugee households to stay warm and avoid illness through this winter."
Adapted, David Tereshchuk, journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org
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