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Innovative aid programme helps Syrians adjust to new life in Armenia

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Like thousands of other Syrian Armenians, the Payazyan family fled its home in Syria to escape the nearly two-year long armed conflict. They arrived in Armenia seven months ago with hopes of returning home soon.

But as the fighting escalates, the family has had to stay on and try hard to adapt to the cramped housing conditions and cold weather. They are struggling to find the resources they need to buy food, clothing and other essential items required for survival.

The family of five lives in two small rooms. Mrs Payazyan is sick; the daughter is mentally disabled, and the younger son has blood cancer. The family gets by on the earnings of their other son, who works as a waiter in a restaurant. Mr Payazyan used to be a car mechanic in Alleppo and has had a hard time adjusting to life without a job here.

“My heart hurts every time when I go to get support from different organisations. […] And every day is the same; no one is sure if they can survive. My brothers sent us to Armenia, as my wife and children need medical care besides peace,” Mr Payazyan explains.

“Now my brothers and their families [in Syria] can’t go anywhere and meet every day with fear for their lives. My mother passed away in November in Lebanon, and no one of us could be present at the funeral. […] We all need to work to feed the families. But how and where?” he asks, referring not only to the plight of refugee families like his own, but also to those still inside Syria whose lives have been put on hold by the fighting.

New voucher system yields results

In December 2012, the Armenia Inter-Church Charitable Round Table Foundation (ART) provided assistance to the most vulnerable Syrian refugees like the Payazyan family living in and around Yerevan. With just $USD40,000 from ACT Alliance, ART was able to efficiently provide life-saving assistance to 200 families. More than 1,100 families have since registered for the innovative programme.

“The plastic [voucher] cards provided by your organisation brought happiness to our homes, especially at New Year’s Eve. The cards gave the opportunity to buy what we needed,” says Mr Payazyan.

He closes his eyes. They are wet. “Do you know how many people are looking for these cards?” he asks rhetorically.

Around 70,000 Armenians lived in Syria before the conflict broke out in March 2011. Most are descendants of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide in 1915, who fled to the more hospitable land of Syria. In the intervening years, they’ve developed an organised, close-knit life, united around the Armenian Church and Armenian educational institutions.

While they’re thankful for the safety they’ve found in Armenia, most, like the Payazyan family, would like to return to the lives they knew in Syria. In the meantime, ACT Alliance will continue to support their struggle to survive in their ancestral home.