LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
I'm Lulu Garcia-Navarro. In Syria, al-Qaida-linked militants and other fighters are cornered in the country's northwest. Syrian forces and their Russian allies are attacking them in Idlib province with airstrikes and ground assaults. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says hundreds of civilians have been killed in the country since the beginning of May.
Meanwhile, some of the millions who fled the brutal civil war are starting to return home. What is the country that they're returning to though? And what is its future? Marwa Awad is the spokeswoman for the United Nations World Food Programme in Syria, and she joins us now from Damascus.
Welcome to the program.
MARWA AWAD: Thank you for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Earlier this year, President Bashar al-Assad called on refugees living abroad to come home. What are they finding when they get back?
AWAD: Well, the Syria crisis remains one of the largest humanitarian and protection crises of our times. And the majority of the country has been destroyed, and so people are returning to rubble, very often being forced to live in areas that are really at subhuman conditions.
I've - we were in the car, and we were driving through this decimated neighborhood in Deir ez-Zor city. And I just saw this man in the distance sitting in the middle of the street on a couch. And we stopped to talk to him. And he said, look. These are my belongings. And he pointed to the leftover furnishings of his home. And he said, I'm just guarding my stuff, and I'm waiting for someone to come and help me rebuild my home.
So the needs are extremely high. And it's not just emergency needs. People need to realize that these Syrians who are returning, they need help to rebuild their homes and to rebuild their lives and to be able to send their children to school. Schools need to be rebuilt. Basic services need to be reinstated. It's going to be a long time before people can start to have a normal life again.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That, of course, takes a great deal of money and, presumably, international support. Considering the complexities of the Syrian conflict, it seems unlikely that that will happen anytime soon.
AWAD: We do realize that there is fatigue with the story of Syria. But it's important that we continue to get support as the humanitarian community - WFP's providing food rations to 3.5 million people every month in the country, but we need donors to also support what we call livelihood programs. And this is, basically, enabling people who return to find a job, to help them to reintegrate themselves into the workforce. So a lot of work needs to be done.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're coming to the end of your assignment. You've been living in Syria for three years. So I'm wondering, what are your reflections on this experience? What are the lessons you're taking away?
AWAD: It's quite sad to see so much potential lost. One woman that I met in rural Damascus told me that she had to put her youngest daughter into an orphanage simply because she did not have money to provide for her. So - it's not all depressing. I've met with people who are extremely resilient, especially in the northeast - a woman who was looking for plastic scraps in one of the damaged streets. And she told me, you know, I'm trying to find the best ways to shelter my children because they've moved back to their home and, you know, half of the walls had fallen out. So people are trying to rebuild their lives. And it's just important that we keep reminding people in Syria that they will always have someone to support them and to help them to go back to the way life was for them before this conflict began eight and a half years ago.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Marwa Awad of the United Nations World Food Programme. She spoke to us via Skype.
Thank you very much.
AWAD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.