Tag Archives: Caritas lebanon

Syrian refugee crisis: Call to action

A Syrian refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, where six families are charged US$133 each to rent the land where a three room makeshift  accommodation has been constructed in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. By Danny Lawson/PA Wire

A Syrian refugee camp in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, where six families are charged US$133 each to rent the land where a three room makeshift accommodation has been constructed in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. By Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Val Morgan from the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund blogs on the Caritas Syrian refugee emergency response from Lebanon and Jordan.

They flee with nothing but the clothes on their backs – many traumatised by the horrific violence they have seen and experienced. Now they are homeless, often grieving for the loss of their previous peaceful lives and the death of their children, parents or wider family. This is the situation for the ever increasing Syrian refugee population as they flee for their lives over the boarders into neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

In Tripoli, Bekaa Valley, Saida, Amman and Zarkq and elsewhere in Lebanon and Jordan Caritas is running emergency projects to help refugees and vulnerable people in the host communities. The individual stories of suffering are harrowing, their outlook bleak.

One woman who spoke to a Caritas aid worker, Shaha Ibrahim, was four months pregnant when she fled with her husband and first child. Her new baby girl, Bayane, is now just 2 months old. Like many others, she has lost family: “My two cousins were killed in a bombing. We ran away from our home but our cousins didn’t make it,” she said.

Her husband, Abboud, said that before they fled “We could see the bombs falling and the buildings on fire around us. There were so many dead bodies and body parts in the street. A lot of our neighbours were killed or injured by shrapnel. When we saw the bodies we thought we would be next. We ran from one place to the next but didn’t even have food – our children were starving.”

Once over the border, the plight of Syrian refugees remains one of immense struggle. The conditions many families find themselves are absolutely appalling.

There are no official refugee camps in Lebanon so the they have to find shelter wherever they can in derelict buildings and temporary shelters made from waste

For those with some money, the rent rooms. Some families are extremely vulnerable. I spoke to Ahmad Salameh who had been living with his wife, children, and five other families in a cow shed with a pipe leaking human waste into it. This is where they had been sheltering, sleeping and eating.

The space was approximately three metres by five metres. The other five families were all headed by his sisters-in-law as two of his brothers had been killed and three remained in Syria. Fortunately Ahmad and his extended families have now built a shelter on land they are renting nearby. It is cleaner and they have more space.

There is less illness in the family and it is a little warmer. These are the people who Caritas are providing aid to. Ahmad and his wider family received food, blankets and mattresses. Others receive hygiene kits including soap, cloths, diapers, medical care, trauma counselling, fuel, stoves, school fees, uniforms and books for children and rent vouchers depending on their situation.

As the horrific war in Syria continues the problems are set to deteriorate further as between 3,000 to 4,000 new refugees cross the border into Lebanon every day. Put simply, there isn’t enough emergency aid for the growing number of refugees.

Syrians now make up around 25 per cent of the country’s population with conservative estimates of refugees at 1.1 million with a Lebanese population of 4 million. It is easy to imagine the enormous impact the Syrian war and refugee crisis is having on Lebanon.

There are also many poor and vulnerable Lebanese families who need help. There is now a shortage of cheap rental accommodation, food prices are rising, growing waiting lists for schools, and unemployment and crime are soaring. With such an intense scramble for resources the prospect of civil unrest between the refugees and their hosts is a very real possibility with isolated trouble already occurring.

Fantastic work is being done by Caritas on the ground, working alongside other charities and the UNHCR. But the needs remain great. That is why it is more important than ever that we continue to support the Syrian refugees and their host communities. This is already a deep humanitarian catastrophe and no one should be fooled into thinking that it cannot get worse. It can. And it will be the innocent and desperate refugees and their hosts in neighbouring countries who will suffer.

Now is a time for action.

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Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon: violence against women

Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Val Morgan from the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) blogs on the Caritas Syrian refugee emergency response from Lebanon and Jordan

“Sexual violence and abuse of women is a major problem but it is not in our culture to talk about it. We have heard some terrible stories from the Zatari camp,” said one aid worker I spoke to in Jordan.

I had seen this problem before in the Democratic Republic of Congo when very large numbers of people flee their homes and are displaced by war. It is often the case in these situations that women and girls become much more exposed to abuse and sexual violence.

This horrific problem now seems to be spreading as an indirect result of the ongoing war in Syria. Yet again, ordinary people are carrying the heaviest burden. In Lebanon, I spoke to Fatme Mchawreb, a senior social worker at the Saida migrant centre. Fatma told me the problem was on the rise.

“Mothers have no protection if they are on their own. Sexual violence and abuse is increasing. However, people do not talk about it as sex is a taboo subject in this country. But rape is happening here in Lebanon.

“Before, UNHCR would deal with these cases but we have taken over from them and in the last three months we are discovering more and more of these cases. Up to now we had referred them to Abaad, a specialist NGO in Syria.”

“We already have a sexual violence and abuse programme with workers doing training for people in the community. The support we provide includes trying to help those affected meet their material needs, and also a referral to a psychologist.

“With the abuse of women we often discover it when we do our first home visit. Sometimes the women come to us after they have been beaten by their husband.”

They need someone to support them and they trust the social worker.

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Syrian refugees in Lebanon: people behind the numbers

Shaha Ibrahim and one of her daughters (Photo: Val Morgan)

Shaha Ibrahim and one of her daughters (Photo: Val Morgan)

Val Morgan from the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) blogs on the Caritas Syrian refugee emergency response from Lebanon and Jordan

How can so much pain and suffering be inflicted upon a people and no notice taken by those that are inflicting it. Tell me the ideology or political view that outweighs the right to life?

Around 9.3 million of Syria’s 23 million inhabitants need aid. The number of people who have lost their homes or been forced to flee has now reached 6.5 million in Syria and over 2 million in neighbouring countries.

But behind every single number there is a fellow human being who cherishes life, loves his or her family and simply wants to live in peace.

Shaha and Abboud Ibrahim have two lovely girls and fled from Hasaki in Syria. When an eighteen day battle raged around them they were trapped. When they and their children emerged into daylight so they could escape buildings continued to burn around them and dead bodies littered the streets.

Abboud told me, “A lot of our neighbours were killed or injured by shrapnel, we saw their bodies – we thought we would be next – the children were starving. We fled into the wild. It took us a month to walk to Lebanon.”

When all this occurred Shaha was 3 months pregnant. Thankfully her lovely child, Byane who is now two months old, was born safely and is part of a loving family.It seems that everyone that has lost someone, and their current life is difficult.

Ahmad had five brothers – now two are dead – the others remain in Syria. He lives with his wife and children, and the families of his five sisters-in-law. Now their situation just about bearable as they stay in a hand-built shack made of plastic sheeting and some breeze-blocks.

The children are often ill and haven’t been to school since they fled. They are poor and struggle to survive. However, up until recently they had all been living in a cow shed three metres by five metre with a sewerage pipe with human waste flowing from it.

I saw it with my own eyes and couldn’t imagine being in such a bad situation that moving into that foul cowshed was a step in the right direction.

Throughout these meetings I was accompanied by the good staff of Caritas Lebanon who walk alongside those who are hurting, as well as provide them with practical aid such as food, hygiene kits, blankets, mattresses, fuel, stoves and medical care.

For all the horror that people are capable of, I keep in mind that there are always more good people in the world. When I meet the people and witness situations like this, I sometimes wonder.

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Syrian refugees in Lebanon: a ray of light

Caritas doctors reaching out to Syrian refugees (Photo: Val Morgan)

Caritas doctors reaching out to Syrian refugees (Photo: Val Morgan)

Val Morgan from the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) blogs on the Caritas Syrian refugee emergency response from Lebanon and Jordan

Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley is just over an hour’s drive east of Beirut towards the Syrian border. Our first stop was the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre at Taalabaya where newcomers are registered and aid is distributed, including medicines.

There are currently 13 mobile clinics which travel to camps all over the country. One of the clinics has set up shop outside the Caritas centre in Taalabaya. Here, the doctor, Joseph Homsi, says he will see between 50 and 100 people a day. Joseph is from Zahleh, the main city of the Bekaa region, and he epitomises the selfless dedication of the Caritas Lebanon staff.

“I’m a humanitarian. I want to provide emergency care for Syrian refugees. I’m doing the thing I love,” he said. This was despite the fact that many people come and shout at them when they aren’t able to help them more. This, Joseph said, was sometimes difficult to take as they are doing everything they can but there simply aren’t enough doctors or medicines for the people who need help.

While I was with him, a young boy came in who had been involved in a car accident four days ago and his face was badly cut but he hadn’t had stitches because his family don’t have any money. Dr Homsi put a clean dressing on, gave his mother some anti-inflamatory medicine and antibiotics to tackle any infection. Caritas also arranged for the boy to go to a nearby hospital for surgery to re-open the cut and stitch it properly – Caritas will pay the US$100 charge for them.

Outside there were a number of queues. One was for registering people when they first arrive – this is to log their basic details and identify their situation and their needs. Each family is assessed and decisions made on what type of aid they should receive. Everyone will at least receive food and hygiene kits but the most vulnerable will receive additional help such as clothes, blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting if they’re creating a shelter, fuel, stoves as well as basic medical care.

Another queue, of about 30 to 40 women and children, waited to pick up medicine from a nurse in the mobile clinic itself – essentially a small van full of drugs. After the consultation with the doctor, who prescribes the medicine, a list is then given to Aline Ephrema, the Caritas nurse in charge. Proscriptions being given out include medicine for babies and a wide range of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, diarrhoea and hypertension.

Aline, another incredibly positive person operating in what is an extremely tough situation, highlighted again that the situation is getting worse as more and more refugees flood into the county.

“This time last year I would see around 30 people per day here – now it is up to 70 or so,” she told me. I asked her why she worked for Caritas and how she dealt with the hardship she faces each day. She simply told me, “I love to help others. I feel very bad for the refugees because they have had to flee their homes – I would certainly not like to leave my home.”

Speaking with the Caritas staff and seeing their undimmed positivity was like ray of sunshine in what is otherwise a very dark storm.

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Syrian refugees in Lebanon: Born under bombs

Adnan with wife and granddaughter.  Photo by Val Morgan/Sciaf

Adnan with wife and granddaughter. Photo by Val Morgan/Sciaf

Val Morgan from the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) blogs on the Caritas Syrian refugee emergency response from Lebanon and Jordan

“Our home was destroyed and my brother-in-law killed when a bomb landed directly on our house. I survived as I was in another room from him. Many others were injured.” This was the terrifying story of 24-year old Zeinab who fled with her husband and two children from Maarret El Noman-Edeeb in Syria five months ago.

Zeinab was just one of a number of Syrians I met on my visit to the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. Between 3,000 to 4,000 Syrians cross the border into Lebanon each day – many deeply traumatised, having seen family members killed and their homes destroyed. Official estimates of refugees now in the country stand at around 1.5 million. In a country where the total Lebanese population is 4 million, it is easy to imagine the huge impact the Syrian war is having on neighbouring countries.

Tensions between refugees and the host communities are rising and outbreaks of violence have occurred in several places, including Tripoli. One of the major issues is unemployment, with many Lebanese unable to get work as the refugees accept much less money for the same jobs as they are so desperate to provide food, shelter, clothing and medical care for their families. Another family I spoke to go out collecting and selling any recyclable rubbish they can find on the street. It still isn’t enough for them to support themselves.

Fr Simon Faddoul, the president of Caritas Lebanon told me, “There are immense numbers now. We try to mediate between the people – both Syrian and Lebanese. Our social workers are all over the country helping.”

Money being provided by Caritas agencies around the world is helping to provide food, clothing, blankets, temporary shelters, rent vouchers, trauma counselling and medical care. Since the conflict began in March 2011, Caritas Lebanon has helped over 125,000 people – that’s roughly 10 to 15 per cent of the Syrian population in the country.

We should be under no illusions. What is happening here is an abominable human tragedy on an almost unimaginable scale. Each family I met today has lost everything and their immediate future looks bleak at best. The fantastic work being done by Caritas is providing vital lifelines to many thousands but the continuing flow of newcomers is overwhelming the capacity and resources of those who are trying to help.

It is heart-breaking to listen to so many stories of people in such desperate situations. However, there was one beautiful moment when I met an elderly couple and their family in the Baddaoui camp. They fled Damascus one year ago. As I sat chatting with them a ten month old baby girl crawled into the room and joined them. The husband, Adnan, told me that it was their first grandchild. They beamed. I said I was so happy for them and offered my sincere congratulations. It really lifted my spirits, despite the proud grandfather adding that the baby had been born under the bombs of Aleppo.

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Syrian refugees in Lebanon pray for peace

By Joêlle El Dib, Caritas Lebanon Communication Department

Following Pope Francis’s appeal for a world day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria and the Middle East on the 7 September 2013, Caritas Lebanon celebrated mass with Syrian families sheltering in the Saint Gabriel monastery in Ajaltoun (Kesrouan).

With tears in their eyes, children, women and men prayed from the bottom of their heart and lit white candles for peace in Syria and the return of displaced to their country.

Kossay fled to Lebanon 10 months ago and has not found work yet; he’s surviving thanks to his limited savings and the assistance provided by Caritas Lebanon. His two wishes are peace upon Syria and the return to his country. “I don’t want to go to Europe. I want to live and die in my country,” he said. He thanked the pope for “the declaration of Jesus Christ, love, peace and rejection of violence on this special day.”

Georges came to Lebanon 15 days ago. He considered this prayer a prayer of love for Syria, a prayer the entire world must hear. “I hope everyone shares this prayer. Perhaps, it will contribute to the return of peace, security, coexistence and love in Syria. A prayer, so we can return to our country, and the pain and burning from our hearts and minds can be removed. A prayer, so Syria can become the bright flower of the Middle East again”.

He calls everyone, Christians and Muslims, to join in this beautiful prayer for the great, dear and precious Syria.

Aida lights a candle and prays humbly, her eyes full of tears. “I am tired of living in these conditions”, she said. She wonders about their destiny and their children’s future. “Who will protect us as Christians, whether we live in Syria or in Lebanon?” she said.

Fadi‘s wish (14) is calm in Syria, “so we can go back to our homes, where we lived like kings”. Joelle (13) wants all Syrian children to come to Lebanon, instead of staying in war zones and suffering.

Cynthia (9) fled to Lebanon because she and her family were afraid to be kidnapped. She wants to tell the world that “Syria is so beautiful and I love it very much!”

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Why I’ll be praying and fasting on Saturday for peace in Syria

 

Gharam and her brother Nafeh are Syrian refugees now in Lebanon.  Their family has been torn apart by the war. Credit: Nicholson/Caritas

Gharam and her brother Nafeh are Syrian refugees now in Lebanon. Their family has been torn apart by the war. Credit: Nicholson/Caritas

By Patrick Nicholson  

In June, I visited Lebanon to see the work of Caritas with Syrian refugees. We went up to the Bekaa Valley, which runs along the border with Syria. It’s a wide, green valley, dotted with towns and farms. It’s a beautiful place, even now.

I’d been to Bekaa before, in the Spring of 2012. Speaking to the refugees then, I was struck by how awful the experiences they had gone through were. They spoke of surviving under heavy bombardments, of trying to treat people torn apart by shrapnel in makeshift clinics, of trying to avoid the sniper fire, of no water or food and of terrible killings.

It was one of the worst humanitarian crises I’d seen. At the time though, there were several thousand refugees in Bekaa. They were mostly living in rented rooms or with friends. Today, there are over a quarter of a million, spilling out of ramshackle tents or living precariously in half built buildings.

The suffering I’d seen a year ago had been multiplied nearly ten times as much. As the war in Syria has escalated over the last 12 months, the number of refugees in the region has shot up from 230,000 to 2 million. By the end of the year, if we do nothing, that figure is likely to be 3.5 million.

It’s easy to get lost in the numbers. They only go so far in explaining the suffering of each and every one of those refugees and of countless more people stuck behind in Syria.

One story that’s stayed with me is that of a young girl called Gharam and her brother Nafeh. I met them on my last trip to the Bekaa. They were living in a makeshift settlement of tents called Qab Elias.

Gharam was 11 and her brother Nafeh was 10 years old. We sat together in their tent with their cousin and a Caritas Lebanon staff member. They wanted to speak about their experiences.

The children had fled Syria just a few days before when a bomb hit their home in Hassakeh in the north-east of Syria. The father managed to rescue Gharam and Nafeh, but their mother and three siblings were killed in the attack.

After three days walking on the road and a day on a bus, they reached the safety of Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. They arrived only with the clothes they were wearing. Their father has returned to look after their farm in Syria.

“We had a lovely life,” said Gharam. “I went to school. I had friends. I was happy.” The schools closed when the conflict began. Food became scarce and they had to live on bread and water.

“The most frightening thing was the bombing,” she said. Now her school has been destroyed, she has seen the homes of her friends flattened and her family devastated.

“It’s very difficult for us,” she said. “I can’t live without my mum. I need her. My brother is too upset to sleep after all he has seen. I try to comfort him. I tell him not to be afraid. I tell him that I’ll look after him.”

If Gharam could have anything, she says she’d wish for a change of clothes, a telephone so she can call her father to find out how he is and that she could return to her former life. For Nafeh, he wishes for a toy car, a pet bird and “to live in peace”.

It’s so no more children have to go through what Gharam and Nafeh have witnessed that I’ll be following Pope Francis in praying and fasting on Saturday for peace in Syria.

Patrick Nicholson is communication director for Caritas Internationalis

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